The Republican Party’s soul searching has come to this: They’ve decided that they need to find a way to sound compassionate, to stand for more than austerity, and to model the party on the success of Republican governors like Jindal and Brownback, as well as former President George W Bush.
At a party meeting in Los Angeles last week, Republicans struggled again to rebrand their party, according to Time Magazine’s Swampland blog. Zeke Miller wrote, “The RNC points to the accomplishments of Republican governors as models for the party at large — including Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s Medicaid reform efforts and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to promote teacher accountability. They also point to former President George W. Bush’s pre-9/11 agenda of compassionate conservatism as a helpful model.”
Bush’s pre-9/11 “agenda” was in operation for a short eight-ish months, during a time of a budget set by the previous administration. He ran on immigration reform, education reform, an expansion of Medicare with the unpaid for Part D, and lower taxes for the rich. The first didn’t happen, and the latter two added to the deficit that the current Republican Party keeps saying is so evil. Bush also found ways to do very hyped up “giveaways” like a tax refund check, instead of a refund that was automatically calculated like Obama’s was.
In 2000, George W. Bush also ran on privatizing Social Security, “Young workers should be allowed to voluntarily invest part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account. Young people should be able to build a bigger nest egg by investing in safe, secure investments like bonds, stocks and mutual funds. No government investment of Social Security funds in the stock market. People should be able to invest; not politicians. Social Security’s disability and survivors support must be preserved. No Increase in Social Security Taxes. They already take 12.4% of a worker’s paycheck. Governor Bush will work with Republicans and Democrats to pass a bipartisan reform that protects Social Security. Already, his approach has drawn praise from leading Democrats.” Bush tried to sell Social Security privatization after he was reelected in 2004, but was quickly shot down.
Are the Republicans saying they need to come up with a giveaway like Medicare Part D? This suggests a profound lack of confidence in the very economic platform they just affirmed days ago, not to mention the actual policy positions of Republican representatives, who are pushing to privatize Medicare (see the Ryan budget).
Yes, Bush won by running on “compassionate conservatism”, but he trashed that jingle. Americans had eight years to learn what that really meant, and they aren’t too enamored of it. In October of 2008, as Bush was leaving office, he had a mere 11% strong approval rating, with a 45% very negative rating. In a recent NBC/WSJ poll, he only managed a 3 point jump to 14% strong approval, with 28% strong negative. The American voter has not forgotten or forgiven the Bush years. W did beat out Marco Rubio (R-FLA), who followed behind Bush with a very weak 12% strong approval (though he isn’t as widely known as Bush).
While Bush was able to ride the tidal wave of right wing cultural popularity, the current Republican Party doesn’t seem to realize that they are losing/have lost the culture war, according to the NBC/WSJ poll. What worked for the party in its heyday of 2000 will not work in 2016. They’ve been unmasked and left behind.
The Republicans sent their people to school to learn how to sound empathetic, “The gathering’s purpose, said RNC officials who recently released a much-publicized autopsy of the 2012 election, was largely to begin reshaping negative perceptions of the GOP. At the meeting, the Republican National Committee’s 168 members sat through upbeat sessions with titles like “How to say what we mean and show that we care,” and “Winning the Women’s vote.”
The problems with winning the women’s vote are plentiful: “Binders full of women”, Republican objection and obstruction to the Violence Against Women Act, as well as their unprecedented 694 attempts — this year alone — to restrict women’s access to healthcare and control over their own bodies. Romney tried skating by with rhetoric in 2012, yet he always managed to trip over his policies and his worldview.
The issue for Republicans is that they are already using much of Bush’s language on most domestic issues. The difference in terms of policy is that they have moved to the right of Bush. What this comes down to is that the directionless Republican Party is so devoid of ideas that they have decided to pick the bones of the Bush bleached carcass of political failure.
Looking for a new way to fail? Mission accomplished.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.