Joe Gandelman: Can the Republican Party rebrand itself?
Can the Republican Party rebrand itself after its big 2012 national election defeat, loss of growing demographic groups, and polls indicating many perceive it as out of touch and too extreme? The answer is yes. Will it? That answer is more iffy.
There are signs of movement.
Senate Republicans in the “Gang of 8” reached a deal with Democrats on immigration reform. But will the Republican House dilute or stop it? Several top Republicans suggest the party must be more inclusive in tone. Notable non-Sarah Palin fan and Fox News bigwig Roger Ailes made the former Alaska Governor a lowball-contract-renewal offer she could and did refuse, in what many consider an Ailes effort to move Fox away from the Twilight Zone-ish far right. So Palin joins Glen Beck in Fox News exile.
To rebrand, the GOP must extricate itself from the talk radio political culture that celebrates political brinksmanship, snarkiness, over-the-top verbal demonization and division, and considers compromise “caving” and consensus as dated. The talk radio political culture, coupled with the Just Say No bitter political brew of Tea Partiers, have greatly damaged the GOP image — and brand.
If Republicans want to lose six out of seven Presidential elections come 2016, they should stay the course. There is a market in America thirsting for a thoughtful, substantive, Republican Party that offers a serious alternative to Democrats, rather than zinger-hurling politicians and activists seemingly auditioning to be Rush Limbaugh Show substitute hosts.
Current Republican Party rebranding efforts have been damaged by reports that in several states, and even at the national level, some GOPers may want to do what some Virginia Republicans are trying to do. Virginia Republicans tried to shove through a measure changing the way our political system operates by allocating electoral votes according to Congressional districts. Several pundits note that if this system had been in place nationally in 2012, Mitt Romney would have defeated Barack Obama — even though Romney lost by 4.4 million votes.
When Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus expressed interest in this idea, the story spread further and hurt the GOP brand — since to many Americans it (rightfully) made Republicans look like sore losers, willing to garbage-bag our accepted rules of the game to rig elections to win and maintain power. As the imagery damage became evident, more Republicans started voicing opposition to the idea, which even the Wall Street Journal headlined “divisive.”
Florida’s Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford told a reporter: “To me, that’s like saying in a football game, ‘We should have only three quarters, because we were winning after three quarters and they beat us in the fourth.’ I don’t think we need to change the rules of the game, I think we need to get better.”
You could say “no duh” — except there still are an awful lot of powerful “duhs” still out there.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal famously declared it’s time for the GOP to stop becoming known as the “stupid party.” The National Journal’s Charlie Cook suggested the party could use sensitivity training because Asians and Latinos were turned off by “shoot-from-the-lip remarks from various Republican candidates, conservative radio and cable television talk-show hosts, and guests who were seen by many as being, correctly or not, spokesmen for the Republican Party.”
So are the attempts to rig the Electoral College dead? Not totally.
If Republican dominated legislatures shove this through in even a couple of states, it will be a godsend to Democrats who have their own ideas on how to brand the GOP. And if Republicans ever did, in essence, gerrymander the electoral college so that they can maintain power without winning the popular vote, then the U.S. would be on its way to becoming a banana Republic — engineered by “stupid” banana Republicans.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.