Republicans a Damaged Brand

Political Wire has advanced excerpts from Charlie Cook’s latest National Journal column:

“Republican campaign consultants have been publicly expressing a great deal of concern that the ‘GOP brand’ has been damaged, or at least tarnished. For top strategists to be so candid about their party’s problems is fairly unusual, and it reflects just how urgent they consider the party’s need to redefine itself as it prepares for the 2008 campaign.”

GOP pollster Glen Bolger explains: “We’re still good on taxes and values, but have big problems on ‘less spending’ and ‘less government,’ and there are cracks in the wall of our strong national security fortress. The other tarnish is that for a long time, Democrats were the party of the professional politicians, while Republicans came to Washington to fix the mess and go home. The scandals and the way Republicans ran the House mean that we have been more interested in power than in doing what is right — which means we are no different than that which we replaced in 1994.”

Full disclosure: Bolger is managing partner at my wife’s firm. That said, he’s right.

Many of us on the right side of the blogosphere have been saying much the same thing for a while, arguing that the GOP needs to re-dedicate itself to fiscal discipline (the Porkbusters project is a notable example) and put fresh faces in the leadership. The Senate has done that, mostly because Bill Frist always intended to honor a two term limit, but the House has not.

The DeLay/Abramoff/K Street Project scandal, egregious pork spending (exemplified by the Bridge to Nowhere), and malfeasance in handling the Foley scandal hurt the party badly and cost it the majority. To be sure, being tied to an unpopular president and supporting an unpopular war already put it in danger of losing seats, but abandoning its core principles demoralized the base and energized the apathetic middle.

The damage is reversible, to be sure. Indeed, there are signs that the party has rediscovered its belief in limited government and spending restraint now that they’re in the minority. A significant number of the House seats lost last November will be very much in play come 2008 and, while the set of Senate seats up that cycle favors the Democrats, picking up two seats to regain the majority is hardly out of the question.

The silver lining to being the minority party is that, not only does it force needed self-examination, it shines the spotlight on the excesses of the opposition. While the Democrats are riding in on a wave of reform, they will soon start engaging in most of the same practices they for which they criticized the Republicans. Sadly, that’s what politicians and political parties do. Power has a way of undermining commitment to one’s principles.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. superdestroyer says:

    You are forgetting the coming demographic tidal wave that will probably bury the Republicans. Republicans get almost all of their votes from middle class and upper middle class whites. That demographic group is shrinking as a portion of the U.S. population.

    The only way that the Republicans can stay viable in the long run is to either get a higher percentage of black, Hispanics, and Asian-American votes (all of these groups current vote over 60% for Republicans and have no inclination to ever vote Republican) or to get a higher percentage of the white middle class voters during every election cycle(something that the social activist, big government conservatism will be unable to do).

    If you look at demographic trends in the United States, the Republicans are on a long down slide to becoming irrelevant.

  2. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. A political party is seen in ascendancy when it wins an election and in decline win it loses.

    There is no doubt that the ‘GOP brand’ has taken a hit. But the ‘donkey brand’ is cementing its reputation as the party that has no back bone in a fight to defend America or it’s allies. And however much you want to believe in singing kumbaya as the solution to all world problems, there are other factors at play.

  3. just me says:

    I agree with YAJ-there was talk a while back that the democrats were dying etc.

    I think the GOP shot itself, when it got more caught up in the power than in governing. The democrats are not immune to the desire for power, and they wrote the playbook, back when the GOP was already relagated to permanent minority status, at least in the house. We sometimes forget that, given it has been 12 years since the democrats had any power in the house.

    while the set of Senate seats up that cycle favors the Democrats, picking up two seats to regain the majority is hardly out of the question.

    While this is good analysis, I recall a time, when the senate was viewed as “safe” becasue more democratic seats were in play.

    I don’t think going into an election thinking you are “safe” unless you live in Massachussette’s or California is the way to play. I think half the reason the GOP did such a crappy job of recruitment, was that they didn’t feel threatened until it was too late to do anything about it.

    A lot can change in 2 years, lord knows it did in the two years since ’04.

    I do think the voters expect the democrats to produce something, although what that something is, still seems to be up for debate.

  4. lily says:

    Does a return to limited government mean Republicans are going to renounce their adoption of authoritarianism? By adoption of authoritarianism I mean big hunks of the Patriot Act, the imprisonments without trial, the use of the Noise Machine for bullying and intimidation (the recent attacks on the Gitmo lawyers and the faux outrage over Boxer’s remarks, for example) and the pandering to radical righwing “Christians” and their legislative agenda.
    Giving up big government is a dangerous more for Republicans since their authoritarian base loves big government.

  5. Those of us in the middle would prefer members of both parties started spending more time thinking about the people they represent and less time worrying whether they are “winning” or “ascendant.”

    Not that I expect that to happen any time soon…

  6. floyd says:

    “”You are forgetting the coming demographic tidal wave that will probably bury the Republicans.””

    superdestroyer; Not so fast, consider that the VAST majority of the demographic shift comes from a population that is nearly all Catholic and the Democrats HATE christian values.

  7. Lily,

    Poll the patriot acts and you get overwhelming success. Want to know why the foreign intercepts and SWIFT fell off the democratic speaking points? Because the public wants them in overwhelming numbers. Note that their repeal isn’t on Pelosi’s 100 days for the same reason.

    What imprisonment without trial? Captured enemy not being given a trial? That’s been going on since the founding of the country.

    As far as the noise machine, which side had a major political figure have to give up the microphone to a chanting diva. Sorry, the left has the noise and thunder (signifying nothing, but they have it).

    Pandering is always a perspective. Shall we see what is under the tree for the big unions. Perhaps they will get union elections without a secret ballot. Nothing like squashing the mechanisms of democracy (secret voting, free speech, etc) to show you are a democrat.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Right Floyd, only the GOP embraces Christian values, just ask Bush’s pal Ted Haggard.

  9. floyd says:

    anjin sin; I didn’t say they did. I’m no republican either, but everyday under democrat control is a threat religious liberty in this country.Just ask any democrat.

  10. Tano says:

    “…are cracks in the wall of our strong national security fortress…”

    I do so love understatement.

  11. anjin-san says:


    Whatever you are smoking, you should give it up. I am a registered Democrat an hold religious freedom as one of the cornerstones of the American way of life. Millions of other Democrats feel exactly the same way. Many have fought and many died for this ideal. Why are you spitting on their sacrifice for freedom?

  12. superdestroyer says:


    You may want to look up religious participation rates for different demographic groups. Blacks in America are by far the most religious people in the United States and vote Democratic 90% of the time.

    I think people forget that politics is not a sporting event. The Republicans are not going to get an easier schedule or the number one draft pick. They are at a disadvantage versus the Democrats and the disadvantages will grow.

    If anyone had a good method of getting more Hispanics and blacks to vote Republican, the Republican National Party would be willing to pay them millions of dollars. Yet, no one has any good ideas of getting more votes from those groups without alienating core Republican voters.

  13. floyd says:

    anjin-sin ; See what I mean?!**You’re a registered Democrat and the minute you get in power you start telling me what to smoke.[lol]**
    The democrats are the ones spitting on hard fought liberties, and the people who made them. Your feeble ad hominem notwthstanding.
    **Or to put in the vernacular NAH,NAH…NA.. NAH,NAH**

    ** ** Indicates sarcasm for those who can’t tell![grinz]

  14. floyd says:

    superdestroyer;thank you for at least making a reasonable argument. Half the people in this country seem to agree with your position. Maybe they are right! I see a flaw in the democrat party. That is taking blacks and hispanics for granted while IMHO showing hostility toward their religion and pandering to the extremists on the left who would drag the country toward MARXISM.
    Time will tell.

  15. superdestroyer says:


    I believe that the Democrats benefit in that they seem to be able to function as a political party while having factions with opposites beliefs.

    I believe that blacks are willing to put up with any hostility by the Democratic Party toward religion because no Democratic candidate is ever hostile toward the religious practices of the black community. It has always seemed to me that the Democrats operate from the view that whites should be smart enough not to “fall for religion” but it is quaint when blacks practice their brand of religion because, in the view of many Democrats, they are too stupid to “not fall for religion.”

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Who knew Mitch McConnell has a “fresh” face?