Three days after they failed to dump the president they hated and blew almost certain control of the Senate, Republicans are deep into tortured self-examination. Anyone who listened this morning as Joe Scarborough railed against the election outcome knew immediately where this is going ’cause we’ve seen it before. It is about adding people, he said over and over, not subtracting them. “The Republican Party must change its brand.”
Now as I understand the term, rebranding is when Mad Men take an unpopular product and attempt to change its image. The classic example is Marlboro, one of the first filtered cigarettes. The filter was marketed as a health benefit and the little brown tip apparently looked sexy or something so they were quickly adopted by women who were not then a large segment of the smoker market. Sales were lousy; Madison Avenue saw the problem and summoned the rugged Marlboro Man. Same stinky cancer stick but now the smell and the risks were firmly in the realm of real men. Women moved on to Virginia Slims.
Rebranding is often done, more to the point of the current situation, when a name that was once respectable becomes irreparably tainted. Blackwater the military contractor became Xe and moved its headquarters overseas after it and its employees were accused of everything from tax fraud to arms trafficking and overbilling to manslaughter. Even worse they started to lose government contracts. Whether Blackwater or Xe, they remain malicious mercenaries.
So Republicans, according to Scarborough, Haley Barbour, and 74.5 percent of the nation’s political pundits, must rebrand. And the party appears to be taking this to heart. So far I have heard they plan to spotlight Mario Rubio, one of their few prominent Hispanics, and give (per Mitch McConnell through clenched teeth) the President more opportunity to bring them legislation they like. Rush Limbaugh asked with a good deal of wonderment whether they would have to welcome immigrants with open arms and give women birth control pills.
Leaving the crazies aside as we would very much like to do, even reasonable conservatives have historically fallen back on the explanation that it isn’t the message; it is the person delivering it. McCain was not a true conservative, Romney was flawed; if only their message were properly presented Americans would buy it whole hog because this is a center-right country. A sizable piece of the base is making this argument today. “We lost because we weren’t conservative enough.”
Guys, let me explain something to you. Changing the color of your logo, hiring a pretty new spokesmodel and requiring John Boehner to learn Spanish isn’t going to help. You can reach out and convince more of your women and minority members to run for office next time, but if you give the electorate more Virginia Foxes, Herman Cains, or Carly Fiorinas it isn’t going to get any better. It isn’t your label or your store displays and it certainly isn’t your ad budget that is the problem. It is your product.
Americans are simply not buying it. They have finally figured out that it doesn’t trickle down and maybe we aren’t that exceptional; hard work and ingenuity don’t guarantee success, you didn’t really build it yourself, some regulations are necessary, and if left to our own devices we may actually decide not to help one another.
When Republicans have won big in the past it has always been by obscuring their real message with fear or hate or hubris. “They” are going to take your guns, give the other guy your stuff; the gays are coming and Osama is coming again, Willy Horton is going to rape your wife. When have the Republicans ever really run on the message they say America is dying to hear?
They didn’t do it this time either but many of us figured it out. We now know that what you want to do, what you have always wanted to do is not in the best interests of most of us. We see that the heart of the conservative philosophy you pedal is and always has been pure corporatism. What was different in this election was that the Democrats, with a lot of help from your nominee, put your product right out front on the shelf where everyone could read the label.
You can switch the conversation away from abortion, building a fence, self deportation and all the other topics that cost you so dearly this week but now we recognize and are questioning the core. We finally understand why you say the private sector always does it better and beginning to see that pure capitalism might have a few flaws. And that no taxes screed with which you have misled us for so long? We think we might be happy to pay more taxes if corporate American would let us earn enough to pay them.
Republicans can try once again to rebrand themselves, it was the big tent party in one reincarnation, compassionate conservatives in another, but at heart they remain exclusionary and selfish and more than anything else, owned and operated by big business. They can broadcast their commercials in three languages and change their logo from an elephant to a big and more appropriate circus tent, but until they change their product, the Republic Party will remain in a death spiral.