Culver Lecture 2023: Mike Murphy


Photo submitted to The Simpsonian

Political consultant Mike Murphy visited campus to talk about the state of U.S. politics as a part of the annual Culver Lecture series put on by the Culver Public Policy Center.

by Jenna Prather, News Editor

Mike Murphy gave the twelfth annual Culver Lecture in Hubbell Hall Tuesday night, speaking about the state of politics in the United States, particularly the Republican Party and how Iowa plays into it all.

“I feel a little bit like Keith Richards’ doctor,” Murphy joked at the top of his speech. “I’m looking at the X-ray and I’m desperate to find something good to say.”

Murphy is one of the Republican Party’s most successful political media consultants, having handled strategy and advertising for more than 26 successful gubernatorial and Senatorial campaigns. He also served as a top campaign advisor to John McCain, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with dozens of other GOP Senators, Governors and Members of Congress.

In short, though he is, in his own words, a “certified right-wing nut,” Murphy knows what he’s talking about.

“We are in what you can call the era of the wrong track in American politics,” Murphy said. “We have a trick polling question, both parties used, where we ask people, ‘do you think Iowa or do you think the United States is going in the right direction? Or have they gotten seriously off on the wrong track?’”

Those who answer that they think it is going in the right direction will generally have campaigns that display how great America is. American flags, fields, maybe a dog, but on the other side, “when a majority of people say things are on the wrong track, what is the campaign about?”

“‘Change.’ ‘New.’ The most powerful word in advertising is ‘new,’” Murphy said.

In polling, the right track and the wrong track used to oscillate. Good economic times, right track. Bad economic times, wrong track. And it would go back and forth with the economic cycle.

“We have been stuck on the wrong track for over 20 years,” Murphy said. “There is no oscillation. It’s just ‘how mad are people?’ That’s what oscillates, nobody’s ever happy now, in the direction of the country.”

This was a common topic throughout the speech, that the country was experiencing what he called a “tribal divide.”

“I’m right, they’re evil,” Murphy said. “Now think about that. If I’m right, and they’re evil, anything I do to them was good…They’re evil. I’m a hero. And that puts you in a tribal mentality, which is totally zero, so there’s no room for compromise.”

Murphy has done political experiments in the past, one of them was putting ten kids from the downtown inner city, Chicago, where there is not a large Republican presence, and 10 kids from Galesburg College, in Southern Illinois, which is the opposite.

“Now, in theory, they’re supposed to kill each other,” he said. “So, we locked them off together in a neutral location. Nobody gets killed; they fall in love, they become best friends. It is incredible to watch because it’s not done through social media or any intermediaries or people and they kind of want to get along.”

According to Murphy, politics works in cycles and people are looking for something new against the fatigue of the current political climate.

So, can the Republican Party cycle out of its “Trumpism”?

“The truth is, we don’t know,” Murphy said.

Since Trump’s appearance in the political sphere, the support of the Republican Party has dipped strongly and it has lost out in a lot of elections. Looking forward, the Iowa Caucus of 2024 will be the true test of the party’s strength and if Trump could truly make a comeback.

“I’d say there are three likely scenarios,” Murphy said. “Donald Trump is the Walter Mondale of the campaign…DeSantis goes to Dale Carnegie master course…and finally, Iowa knocks Trump into second or third, New Hampshire finishes with him second or third and he bleeds to death on the way to South Carolina. And one of the little three will take over the table.”

He can not see the future, so his predictions may be off, but Murphy encourages young voters to create the change they want to see.

“Age is incredibly predictive. One of the things the Republican Party’s been great at lately is alienating young voters,” he said. “If you get young people involved in politics, things will change.”

“Fight, organize, get knocked down, get up, fight again.”