Republicans Still Sticking Their Heads In The Sand
The GOP seems to be drawing all the wrong lessons from the 2012 elections.
The Republican National Committee held their Winter Meeting over the past few days in Charlotte, North Carolina. Obviously, what happened to the party in 2012 and what the party needs to do to in response were a hot topic of conversation. We’ve seen much discussion of that talk in the nearly three months since President Obama was re-elected, and the arguments generally seem to fall into one of two camps. On one side, there’s the group that insists that the party’s problems had nothing to do with the ideas that it advanced, which they seem to think are still wildly popular with the American public notwithstanding the electoral evidence to the contrary. To this group, the problem boils down to a question of how the party delivers, not what that message is. It’s a question of marketing, you might say. On the other side of the argument are the people who are arguing, and have been arguing for some time, that the GOP’s problems go beyond marketing and candidate selection and extend to the very ideas that the party has become associated with. The party’s positions on social issues, for example, have turned off young and female voters, and it’s position on immigration, at least since the final years of the Bush (43) Administration, has caused it vast harm among the nation’s fastest growing ethnic group. If these trends continue, they argue, then the party will find 2008 and 2012 to be just the beginning of its problems. The only way for the party to stop this, they say, is to stop being so strident on divisive social issues, and to drop the ill-conceived opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.
When you look at the evidence, it seems eminently clear that the second group is the one that has the better argument. Poll after poll has shown that public opinion on the party is directly related to the party’s position on a number of hot button issues. Additionally, the fact that the GOP has lost the popular vote in five out of the six Presidential Elections is a pretty strong indication that this isn’t just a problem of marketing. Rejecting the idea that Republican ideas are, to at least some extend, behind the party’s woes essentially means that you’re rejecting reality and the judgment of American people. It’s the political equivalent of sticking your head in the sand, ,and it’s not an advisable strategy for anyone who wants to succeed in politics. If the results of this week’s conference are any indication, though, Republicans seem to have convinced themselves that there problems are purely related to marketing:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Republican Party honchos who huddled here for their first big gathering since the election devoted lots of time talking about the need to welcome Latinos and women, close the technology gap with Democrats and stop the self-destructive talk about rape.
But the party’s main problem, dozens of Republican National Committee members argued in interviews over three days this week, is who delivers its message and how, not the message itself. Overwhelmingly they insisted that substantive policy changes aren’t the answer to last year’s losses.
Moderation, at least at this stage, is no virtue at the RNC.
“It’s not the platform of the party that’s the issue,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday after being easily reelected to a second, two-year term. “In many cases, it’s how we communicate about it. It is a couple dumb things that people have said.”
A slide presented during a closed-press strategy session said that Mitt Romney might be president if he had won fewer than 400,000 more votes in key swing states.
“We don’t need a new pair of shoes; we just need to shine our shoes,” said West Virginia national committeewoman Melody Potter.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a luncheon crowd that the GOP is at “a turning point” and needs “real change.”
Then he clarified: “It’s not about ideology…The people on the left are the people on the left, and they ask us to come to them – which is absurd…Obama’s a hard core left-winger. I want him to compromise with us on our terms.”
Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett said the key to a GOP turnaround is to catch up with Democrats technologically.
“Listen, we’re a conservative party. I’m proud of that,” he said. “They were on the ground for four years in Ohio. We didn’t pick up what they were doing in that four-year period, and they were pretty damn effective.”
A big focus of the four-day session, which wraps up Saturday, was adopting a more positive attitude – and smiling! – when interacting with voters and reporters. New Hampshire chairman Wayne MacDonald said party leadings need to work on “not being sour-pusses on television or the radio” – that there is a way to be firm and assertive without being mean-spirited.
“Nobody is saying the Republican Party has to change our beliefs in any of our platform planks,” he said. “This party wants to serve everybody that believes in our principles.”
Behind closed doors, party bigwigs discussed “strategic partnerships” with blacks, Asians, Hispanics and women. There was talk about developing a “comfort factor” so that minorities feel they are part of the process.
“Actually our principles are more conducive to minorities than the Democrats,” said Holland L. Redfield II, the Virgin Island’s national committeeman.
It is true that the GOP needs to make some serious changes to its logistical game, and to do a better job educating candidates on how to present their messages to voters. Additionally, the extent to which the Obama campaign once again out organized the GOP, both on the ground and in cyberspace, is something that Republicans who actually want to win elections in the future need to concern themselves with. However, it strikes me that putting new packaging on the same old message isn’t really going to accomplish much of anything. The GOP’s problems go far beyond bad marketing, outdated campaign tactics, or not using the right words, they got right to the core of those parts of Republican ideology that make the party unpopular with a growing segment of the public. As I noted above, social issues and immigration are two of the biggest parts of this puzzle, but it also seems pretty clear to me that the manner in which the GOP has conducted itself in Congress since Barack Obama became President four years ago has also gone a long way toward souring the image of the party in the minds of the public. A strategy of gridlock and obstructionism is not something the public favors, and the polls have consistently shown that the party damages itself when it engages in these activities. Instead of recognizing all of that, though, Republicans seem to be concluding that all they need to do is make some cosmetic changes and everything will be just fine. They are going to be terribly disappointed.