The Republican Brand In 2012

by George Kennedy on February 18, 2012

The Republican Brand In 2012

What is the GOP brand today?  Who are its custodians responsible for ensuring that the party remains a vital and positive force in American political life?  If the brand is in the throes of change, will the GOP embrace and integrate the new brand with other segments of the electorate indigenous to this country:  Latinos, Mexicans, and African-Americans?  Also, will Muslims and Arabs remain beyond consideration?  Or, will they remain convenient foils for conservatives to mobilize their base during local, state, and national elections?  The tone of the 2012 election suggests there is little room for populations of color unless they are philosophically in tune with the more extreme elements of the GOP.

The GOP alternates between being the party of “No!” and the party of extremes.  This has been their brand since the inauguration of the current president.  Here is a partial list of the legislative proposals they are opposed to or have thwarted:Consumer protections for the middle class.

  • Tax increases on the wealthy – or revenue enhancing measures.
  • Increased federal expenditures on public education.
  • Restraints on domestic energy exploration and production.
  • The Dodd-Frank Act.
  • The Dream Act.
  • Extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
  • Federal spending to rebuild the country’s crumbling and outdated infrastructure.
  • Pay equity for women.
  • Collective bargaining for teachers, firefighters, and police.
  • An American economic recovery (under the current president).

Recently, Republicans and Catholic Bishops, in a well-timed and coordinated attack on President Obama, reprised conservative Pat Buchanan’s divisive cultural/religious rhetoric of the 1990s to declare war on women’s contraception.  This was just the continuation of a broader conservative assault on women.  Rick Santorum, meanwhile, has emerged as the new sentinel on watch to define and defend his unique brand of control over women’s health and sexuality.  The autonomy of women over their sexuality is at the center of his politics.

In concert with the right-wing Christian conservative movement, Republicans have weakened the Violence Against Women Act, pushed state laws to loosen domestic abuse and defunded Planned Parenthood.   The Republican brand may take a bit hit for these actions.

Meanwhile, most Americans, in their wisdom, are focused on a few positive developments:  positive job growth, declining numbers of Americans seeking unemployment benefits, the rebound of General Motors, and an end to the U.S. military occupation of Iraq – to name a few.

While the Republicans in Congress continue to achieve notoriety for what they oppose legislatively, “there is hardly a policy proposal forwarded by the GOP that does not disadvantage people of color, women, and working people – and, worse, there is hardly a single major Republican politician willing to publicly challenge the rhetoric or the proposals of the far right and the Tea Party” notes Stephen Bronner of Rutgers University.  This is a brand of the new GOP from which there appears no retreat for their party.

Looking at the future, the custodianship of the GOP will likely devolve to the farm team of young Republicans being groomed by CPAC, young Republicans on college and university campuses, and the right wing Christian evangelical organizations.  Compromise and bipartisanship are not a part of their agenda.

If the past three years of Republican obstruction in the Congress is considered prologue, the country will likely experience more of the same should the GOP fails to wrest control of the White House in November.  In fact, we should expect that if the President is re-elected, the 2016 campaign will most likely begin in earnest the day after the elections – well before the inauguration.

Many Republicans today must be experiencing anxiety levels that are borderline psychotic.  Where does a good moderate Republican seek political refuge today?  Several good friends, all life-long Republicans, suggested “a pox” on the houses of both political parties.  One of them, a moderate who sees no value in dysfunctional government and the assault on women’s health, went on to say, “Europe, with all its woes, looks better than the self-induced chaos we have here at home.”

The Republican brand may be as difficult to market in the future as it is today.  Let’s consider the party’s current presidential aspirants.  Reagan’s 11th commandment to not speak ill of another Republican is violated so frequently by the current contenders, we are reminded of the internecine warfare for which Democrats were once famous.

It is ironic that none of the 4 remaining contenders raises the pulse of the party faithful or among those elements of the base not held captive by the wedge issues of abortion, contraception, gay marriage, and the Affordable Care Act referred to pejoratively as “Obamacare.”   The search for an alternative continues and may well result in a brokered GOP convention later this summer.

Following 18 debates, the Republican candidates, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, will continue to assault each other much to the delight of the Democrats.  The continuing challenge for Republican party loyalists and the elder status quo in leadership is to balance the influence of the extreme right wing and their anti-abortion advocates, anti-immigration activists, marriage-preservation purists, and anti-government activists with the larger imperative of defeating President Obama this November.  The GOP traditionalists fret their party may find it too daunting a feat to recover from the primary/caucus contests in time to chart a more moderate course in the final election campaign.

Therefore, the future of the GOP and its ability to help shape a more balanced and constructive national dialogue regarding the future direction of this country may be at risk.  Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, his Republican House counterpart, were traditionally the adults in the room when the troops rebelled.  The Tea Party changed the power mix in 2010.

House Speaker Boehner cannot look over his shoulder for fear Eric Cantor may step on his heels.  Senate Minority Leader McConnell appears driven by his vow to make the President a one-term president.  There is also the likelihood a primary challenger may be pointing him toward the exits.  Neither leader appears to have much room to maneuver or to work in a bipartisan fashion with the other party.  We are the continuing victims of this impasse.

The challenges a new president will confront next January are considerable and realistic proposals can only emerge from a rigorous bipartisan debate followed by a commitment to compromise and to govern.  The Democrats would prefer to govern but the Republicans’ priority, at least among the remaining presidential contenders, appears to be fratricide with extreme prejudice.  Meanwhile, their political colleagues on the Hill continue to divide and disappoint while awaiting the outcome in November.

The President, as we have seen, is determined to lead but there are constitutional limits to the scope of reforms he can launch without the cooperation of the Congress.

As an aside, some of us can recall when the GOP offered refuge to conservative Democrats and independents ill at ease with the Democratic Party of President Carter and helped elect Ronald Reagan and his Vice President, George Herbert Walker Bush.

Although the GOP became hostages to the more extreme elements of its base during the Reagan/Bush years, the Democrats in the 1990s became the party of fiscal responsibility, pro-growth, and attractive enough (again) to errant Democrats to return to the party fold.

When Bush Sr. was not re-elected, the Republican Party became more extreme to contrast itself with the Clinton/Gore team.  In 2008, Republicans were forced to abandon the next president Bush for creating the worst economy since the Great Depression, leading the country into the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan, and putting millions of Americans on the unemployment line.

In 2012, we will elect (or re-elect) a president whose tenure will span all – or most – of the second decade of the 21st century.  A frightful prospect is that of a president who emerges from a Republican party riven by conflicting ideological elements.  Tom Friedman opines that we can’t address the great challenges America faces with an incoherent mix of hardened positions that is today’s GOP.

Republicans will represent half of our policy leadership come November and it is of little concern whether their partnership emanates from the White House or Capitol Hill.  They will be at the table!

We have suffered under federal government by stalemate and partisan rancor for the term of this President.  Meanwhile, America’s decline continues.

Income inequality is the divide the electorate practically insists we must bridge if we are to begin the process of reversing our decline.  The GOP, on the other had, views the income-inequality-divide as the inevitable consequence of market forces in a capitalist economy.  What the American electorate requires – and will likely expect from a new president – is a balance between the economic and financial institutions that generate wealth and the political institutions that regulate and redistribute it.

Therefore, it would not matter what brand of leadership a re-elected President Obama stood for unless Republicans and the political, financial, and corporate elite, were willing to become advocates for the American people rather than to remain captives of the extreme elements of their base.

The Republican brand in 2012 could be a marketer’s worst nightmare:  devising a marketing strategy for a brand that is old and offers no new ideas for an electorate in desperate need of change.

The party that formerly took pride in being the party of Lincoln and freed the slaves has now morphed into the party that seeks to disenfranchise African Americans and much of America that remains.  Being a conservative once meant being a person who exercised restraint, moderation and caution.  A conservative today, that represents the new brand for 2012, is a person and political party that are regressive, reactionary, and detrimental to American history and its dream.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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  • Very well written George!  Branding is all about creating a clear distinction so that a customer can easily tell the difference between one product and another.  Additionally, this distinction give the consumer a guarantee that he will consistently receive a real value from the product.

    Assuming the the parties are the “Products” being sold to Americans, I would suggest that both have a brand crisis that no amount of ad spend (which is at an all time high) can fix .

    I’m open to seeing new options like the American’s Elect movement that allows for a more open presidential nomination and election process.While this a flegeling concept and promises nothing in terms of developing a party(s) more represtative of how Americans really feel. I think it is a step in the right direction.


    • George Kennedy

       Michael, I would agree that both political parties have a Branding problem.  Unfortunately, we, the electorate, are only offered a menu of two choices:  Repub. or Dems. and it is time we demanded a better menu.  Unless we step up and hold both parties more accountable, we will continue to be limited in our selections.  It is up to us.

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