Should Republicans Call Domino’s?

NRO’s Jonah Goldberg thinks the Republican Party should take a lesson from Domino’s Pizza, which has apparently admitted that their product is awful and is working to fix itself.

You may have seen the commercials or the YouTube video touting the iconic pizza-delivery chain’s reinvention. But if you haven’t, Domino’s new campaign can be summed up easily enough: “We blew it.”

Focus groups and consumer surveys revealed something pretty much everyone outside of Domino’s has known for years: Their pizza stinks. It tastes as if aliens tried to copy real pizza but just couldn’t capture its essence.

In their four-minute video (search YouTube for “the Pizza Turnaround”), executives, employees, and chefs at the company confront their harshest reviews head-on. They talk about how much it hurts to hear that their product “tastes like cardboard” and is worse than microwave pizza. But they admit the truth and commit themselves to starting over with more flavor, better crusts, and cheese that doesn’t taste like discount weather caulking. Domino’s says that the American palate has improved, and they want to update their recipe to take account of that fact.

The appeal of the campaign should be obvious: honesty. Domino’s admits they lost their way, and they want a second chance. They’re confronting the criticism head-on rather than denying it.

I was unaware that Domino’s was reinventing itself. For that matter, I never thought their pizza was particularly bad compared to other chain restaurants. Still, this seems like a smart strategy.  Here’s the ad video:

The Internet agrees.  AllahPundit doesn’t have an opinion on the political angle of this but endorses the Domino’s ad and their new and improved pizza.  Glenn Reynolds is skeptical but may “give ’em a try.”  Mike Hendrix loves the ad but not the pizza.

But I digress.

Dominos Pizza NoidSo, how does this apply to the GOP?

But the GOP’s troubles over the last decade have a lot to do with the fact that Americans didn’t stop liking what the Republican party is supposed to deliver. They stopped liking what the GOP actually delivered.

As a conservative who cares more about policies than partisan success, I would hate to see the GOP abandon conservative policies in order to be more popular. That would be like Domino’s listening to critics and then deciding to get into the Chinese-food business. Indeed, by my lights, that’s what George W. Bush tried to do with his “compassionate conservatism.” He surrendered to liberal arguments about the role, size, and scope of government on too many fronts. In effect, he said you can have your pizza and Kung Pao chicken all in the same dish. That’s not a good meal, it’s a bad mess.

Uh huh.

So what would a GOP-turnaround recipe look like? That’s a subject for any number of other columns. But for starters, I’d look to young political chefs like Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.). He’s been the leader in attacking “crony capitalism” — the corrupt merger of big business and big government, a hallmark of the Obama administration. For too long Republicans confused supporting big business with supporting free markets, when big business is often the biggest impediment to fair competition. Other fresh new ingredients would almost surely include pro-family tax policies and the de-linking of legal and illegal immigration as interchangeable terms.

But first, the GOP needs to admit it screwed up. That’s what Democrats did with Bill Clinton, and it gave the “New Democratic Party” a new lease on life.

This makes some sense as a marketing strategy.   But there’s a wee problem:  Unlike Domino’s, the Republican Party doesn’t control its product.

I don’t know the details of Domino’s franchise arrangement, but I presume that they can order franchisees to conform to precise recipes.  More likely, the sauces and various other products are centrally ordered and distributed.  Regardless, a Domino’s thin crust pepperoni pizza  should taste exactly the same in Birmingham, Austin, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Boston.

The Republican Party, by contrast, is a brand name and a headquarters but its “chefs” are all independent.

That’s largely a good thing.   While there are regional differences in taste, people nonetheless want their chain food fare to be consistent wherever they happen to be.  But neither political party wants to run on the same platform in Atlanta and San Francisco.  Political cultures vary much more on a regional basis than pizza preferences.

But it does come with some downside.  The national headquarters has precious little ability to pick and chose candidates and platforms on a local level.   Pretty much any yahoo can call himself a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian and run in that party’s primaries.   Sure, the RNC and DNC can influence these things on the margins by recruiting candidates and pouring national money into local races but, for the most part, these things are organic.

Beyond that, good luck in coming up with a consensus on the new Republican “recipe.”   The fact of the matter is that there’s widespread agreement that the GOP needs to fix itself but none on what the reinvented party should look like. Is it going to be more liberal on social issues? More conservative?  Is it going to be run by the Tea Party gang?  And who’s going to decide, anyway?  Michael Steele?  The current congressional leadership?

In reality, the Republican primary electorate will decide this on their own two years from now.  Will they tack to the middle with a Mitt Romney?  Or go the populist route with a Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin?  Or maybe they’ll go off the reservation with a David Petraeus?  There’s no telling at this juncture.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. kth says:

    Republicans embracing fiscal discipline and limited government wouldn’t be like Domino’s promising to make better pizza, but like McDonald’s getting out of fast food and into gourmet cuisine. Unlike Domino’s (which ostensibly at one time delivered edible pizza), the GOP has not, at least since Reagan, delivered what Goldberg would like them to “return” to.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    the Republican Party doesn’t control its product

    Nor does it deliver.

  3. Herb says:

    “For too long Republicans confused supporting big business with supporting free markets, when big business is often the biggest impediment to fair competition.”

    Holy shit. Jonah Goldberg said that???? And I’m agreeing with it?

    I think you have a point about the lack of central planning in the GOP, but with Jonah Goldberg saying completely reasonable things like this…maybe a top-down reinvention won’t even be necessary.

  4. Steve Hynd says:

    The funniest thing is that every food chain does this kind of feedback loop on its product, but only Domino’s ad agency has had the inspired idea of turning it into a reverse-psych marketing campaign. There’s no “there” there for the analogy and Goldberg may just be a marketer’s dream definition of “gullible”. Of course, that’s a good definition of the GOP’s un-moderate right in general so maybe there’s a new analogy to be made.

    Regards, Steve

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    I can see this working, but I see the brand working on process more than specific results.
    For example, the gop can’t stop reps or sens from putting in earmarks. Some of the earmarks may even be the right thing to do. What the gop can do is lay out how they propose to handle earmarks. For example no earmarks in conference but only inserted before the bill is voted on. Earmark proposals to be available for at least a week on the reps webpage to allow comments. Disclosure of any campaign contributions from those who would receive funds under the earmark, etc. If a rep or sen doesn’t abide by the rules, then the national gop should expose the failure themselves. If it gets bad enough, the natl should buy a local ad apologizing for the rep who isn’t living up to the ideals.
    Taking the dominos analogy, if the local store won’t make a better pizza, then take an ad out telling the customers not to expect the best from that store.
    Over time primary challenges will start to rectify non-compliance.
    If the gop did this for 2010 cycle and followed through, they would likely come roaring back in 2012.
    The gop was handed a wonderful gift by obama and the dems. The dems promised good. moderate government and then proceeded to deliver far left garbage. That levels the playing field with voters upset by both sides (see tea party out polling dems and gop). The first party to start delivering good government will have the advantage with the voters. The dems seem to drunk on power to even see the problem.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    The party does have some control on it’s members. Caucuses, committee assignments, and so forth can shape the minority’s stamp on legislation. Certainly the ‘Contract with America’ is an example of party leadership, branding, and product delivered. There may be rogue politicians and those hard to control but overall Goldberg is pointing in the right direction.

    Laying out a set of principles and getting candidates to sign on will get this accomplished. CA 2.0 .

  7. Mr. Prosser says:

    “Laying out a set of principles and getting candidates to sign on will get this accomplished. CA 2.0” Well, maybe. The trend toward the tea party purity tests concern me. To me catering to the fringe elements is like demanding anchovies on every order.

  8. Herb says:

    “To me catering to the fringe elements is like demanding anchovies on every order.”

    Oooh, good analogy.

  9. Highlander says:

    In these late days of the American Imperial age both parties and their inside players are nothing more than than the flip sides of the same Big Corporate/Oligarchs/Inbred Elites coin.

    It really doesn’t make a rat’s ass in the long run which party is in power (the left wing nut’os are in the process of finding this out). The out comes will all be more or less the same.

    In Banana Republics the politicans are purchased after they are elected. In our advanced democracy politicans are bought and paid for ahead of time with campaign donations in one form or the other.

    If you have a net worth of say less than 20 million dollars, go ahead and grab your ankles because you are expendable to this crowd.

    I have at one time of the other been very involved with both parties, and this is my personal observation.

  10. yetanotherjohn says:

    The anchovies analogy only works if you set the ‘contract’ to be about results, not process. As an example, take abortion, as hot a topic as you could ask for. However you answer it, you will drive some people away (those who love or dispise anchovies). But if you say that this issue should be decided on a state level, that is a result most on both sides can live with. If you say that on the federal level you will preserve the choices of one state vs others (e.g. same sex marriage valid in one state will not be forced to be recognized in another) then you aren’t forcing the goal on others, just the rules by which people can go about achieving their goals.
    The good news is that agreement on process is much easier to achoeve than agreement on results.
    Agree on how we will make pizza, not necessarily on what ingredients we want on the pizza.

  11. Steve Plunk says:

    I agree with Mr. Prosser that a “purity test” could hurt more than help. The principles and goals should be reasonable and attainable. Simple statements that clearly define what the party would hope to accomplish if given the chance. Overreaching like the Dems have done could doom any effort.

  12. The problem is that the GOP often can’t bring in “the new cheese” unless all of the old cheese hanging out in Washington agrees to leave.

  13. steve says:

    Yet, Goldberg and his pals at NRo have been some of the biggest, blindest supporters of the GOP. A lot of us figured this out a while back, the GOP does not practice what it preaches. It says it believes in smaller government, but really runs governments just as big, even under Reagan, while just cutting taxes. If you look at the actual numbers, not the rhetoric, how can you possibly vote for a Republican? On national defense, the party long ago ceded power to the neocons, a group that does not fit well with the long time realists in the party. A group that embraces values in conflict with our founders and all time great leaders like Lincoln. How the heck did support of torture become a key party litmus test?

    The party must return to having an interest in governing. It must understand what the concerns of the day actually are, like health care. Think about it, who is the standard bearer in the GOP for health care reform? No one. A passing feeble effort is occasionally made. When the Dems push on it a few counters are made, nothing serious though. What red state had addressed it? What Republican was talking about debt/deficits (excluding Paul) when Bush was in office? Not just an occasional comment, but made it part of their priority? Nope, we got gay marriage instead.


  14. odograph says:

    The guy misunderstands what Compassionate Conservatism was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about markets delivering for the poor through prosperity and opportunity. The failure, the divergence was not really liberal. Be honest, it was conservative bloat concurrent with tax cuts.

  15. odograph says:

    Lol odo is an iPhone user with cookie issues

  16. Mr. Prosser says:

    Yet, as a God-cursed incrementalist I can agree with you to a point but there are federal responsibilities and requirements which must be met; both practically and morally. State solutions sound to me like state’s rights and I’m old enough to remember when state’s rights meant continuance of Jim Crow. Abortion and gay marriage, well maybe. But neocon adventurism, national environmental degradation, response to terrorism in a manner which upholds American values, that’s national.

  17. floyd says:

    The Republicans can’t seem to stay on message or even deliver a palatable plan that decent people can embrace. They have been called on this fact repeatedly,even by Republicans.
    The Democrat Party has converted to vicious, liberty averse Marxism,and the Party faithful just sit back quietly sipping the Kool-aid.
    The irony is palpable!

  18. Gustopher says:

    If the Republicans actually tried to deliver on what they claim to stand for, I would still be a Republican.

    My fist vote was for George Herbert Walker Bush, the education president, and a man who talked about equal opportunity rather than equal results, and fiscal responsibility.

    I’m still waiting.

    But, after Bush the Younger, and the Republican establishment being lockstep behind some of the worst policies in decades, I would sooner vote for a child molester than a Republican — not that I have had to make that choice.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    In our advanced democracy politicians are bought and paid for ahead of time with campaign donations in one form or the other.

    With far more “bought and paid for” to come…free speech and all that, you know…

    The Democrat [sic] Party has converted to vicious, liberty averse Marxism…

    Maybe the GOP should push messages like this one…that’ll get ’em elected…

  20. DC Loser says:

    I voted for Reagan, GHWB and GWB in 2000. That was my last vote for a Republican presidential candidate. The way the GOP is going, I’m quickly becoming a democrat by default because I’ll vote for a blue dog before any GOP presidential candidate that is currently being mentioned.

  21. floyd says:

    Here, a young Democrat expresses his devotion to the great L”O”L himself…..

  22. Herb says:

    Floyd, I was so disappointed when I clicked over to see your video of a pock-marked kid drinking Kool-Aid. I can only assume this is some kind of clever reference to “drinking the Kool-Aid,” a cliched phrase that became popular after People’s Temple members killed themselves while drinking poisoned Flavor Aid.

    Now I could forgive the lazy jokes, the lame cliches, and the lack of original thinking, but I can’t forgive this indiscretion with brand names.

  23. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps the GOP should seek the Wizard of Oz. After all, brains, heart & courage all seem to be in short supply…

  24. sam says:

    Isn’t ‘Domino’ a foreign name? It sure ain’t Amurican. Just sayin’.

  25. MarkedMan says:

    I think James’ analysis about the GOP is dead on, and gets to the heart of the matter. That said, it’s time for all caps. MY GOD, WHAT KIND OF MAN THINKS DOMINO’S WAS “NEVER PARTICULARLY BAD”?!!!!! If I ever meet Joyner, I’ll gladly take him to dinner, but I’m picking the place. Domino’s pizza is cardboard smeared with ketchup and some kind of glistening glutenous mass they slanderously refer to as cheese. As a Chicagoan, I like the occasional sausage pizza, but I would no more eat what Domino’s calls sausage than I would eat what I could scape off the bottom of my boots after a walk in a dog park.

    Whew. Sorry for the all caps. But some things just go too far…

  26. As a Chicagoan

    This of course disqualifies you from any pizza judging. Chicago pizza, while delicious, is not actually pizza so much as a pizza inspired casserole.

  27. floyd says:

    Spoken like a true Capitalist!
    HEY! KOOL-AID!…Take down that wall!!

  28. MarkedMan says:

    As a Chicagoan

    This of course disqualifies you from any pizza judging. Chicago pizza, while delicious, is not actually pizza so much as a pizza inspired casserole.

    Stormy Dragon, it is ironic that my hometown, creator of 1000 delicious kinds of pizza, from the flattest of the flat to the heaving deep dishes you mention, is, to the outside world, associated only with the latter, and at that, mostly to UNO’s. Which is a very mediocre offering at best.

  29. ulyssesunbound says:

    This of course disqualifies you from any pizza judging. Chicago pizza, while delicious, is not actually pizza so much as a pizza inspired casserole.

    Typical fascist Liberal. What, there is only one true pizza? A super race of pizzas? Take your hitlerite views on pizza elsewhere!

    Seriously though, Chicago-style pizza is damn good pizza, whether or not it meets the standards for what people would consider ‘typical’ pizzas. If Chicagoan pizza isn’t pizza but casserole, then St. Louis pizza isn’t pizza, but crackers with toppings, and New York’s pizza isn’t pizza, but a kite with tomato sauce.

    Stormy Dragon, it is ironic that my hometown, creator of 1000 delicious kinds of pizza, from the flattest of the flat to the heaving deep dishes you mention, is, to the outside world, associated only with the latter, and at that, mostly to UNO’s. Which is a very mediocre offering at best.

    Agreed. Uno’s isn’t horrible, but its not great. It would be like taking someone to steak and shake for their first burger–its not bad, but there is much better out there. I prefer Bricks Chicago, or I’ll take Gino’s if a visitor wants to try a more well known pizza place.

  30. Jollopar says:

    To continue with the analogy, the problem is either party’s self-perception, summed up in the risque old adage that “Sex [or in this case, politics] is like pizza: when it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.”

    Both parties, even when they know themselves to be demonstrably wrong, convince themselves that if everyone’s screaming at them, they must be doing something right–that they’re some kind of David taking on a Goliath.

    Human beings being what they are, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

  31. todji says:

    The biggest problem with Goldberg’s piece is that in the end he’s offering the same recipe he’s offering all along- tax cuts and deregulation.

  32. Franklin says:

    Side note #1: Stephen Colbert did a hilarious take on Domino’s marketing strategy.

    Side note #2: The new recipe *is* actually quite edible. I wouldn’t have ordered Domino’s myself, but somebody else had it and it was among the best pizzas I have had lately.

  33. Anderson says:

    I was unaware of the change when last I ordered Domino’s. It was nasty. Like I want garlic on my crust?

    As an option, it would be okay, but I preferred the old style when they made it right. Won’t be ordering Domino’s again if I can help it.