In the immediate aftermath of Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss to Barack Obama, there was a lot of hand-wringing among Republican Party movers and shakers. Romney’s now-infamous remark about the one-percenters brought into clear focus a harsh political reality for the GOP.
Perceived as the party of old, rich, white guys, the handwriting was on the wall. There just weren’t enough of ‘em to go around. And changing demographics made things look even more grim. The American population was getting younger, less zealous in their embrace of religion, more tolerant of alternative lifestyles and undoubtedly less white.
In the four years before Trump seized the Republican establishment by the throat and threw it ignominiously into the dirt, strategists stayed up late figuring how to calculate an electoral future for a sclerotic party being left behind.
One approach was to ratchet up the heat on wedge issues. Issues which had lost some of their luster were now dusted off and brought to new life. Gay marriage, church and state, racial bias, abortion, gun rights and the specter of creeping socialism.
Then, if you can’t win enough of the dummies over by waving the bloody flag, there was still the option of using your hold over state legislatures to make voting more difficult for the poor and minorities. This kind of voter suppression reached a climax in 2020 where, for example, a Texas judge ruled there would be no more than a single ballot drop box for each county. This in a state where some counties are as large as Rhode Island.
Unfortunately, Karl Rove and his minions realized there would still be times when fear, anger and hatred coupled with efforts to make it harder for the poor folks to vote wouldn’t be enough. The grand old party had to find something else.
In 2016, after the Romney debacle, they openly spoke of needing a “new brand.” That party luminaries would think in such terms, let alone be caught expressing it on television, is, to my mind, reprehensible. It shows a complete disdain for the intelligence of the average American voter.
According to this scheme, you don’t alter your policy positions, recruit a different set of candidates or reach out to at least appear more willing to go back to the old pre-Newt Gingrich days when leaders like Reagan and Tip O’Neill could actually agree to disagree and the country was the better for it.
No. That sounds like too much work and it also risks alienating a whole new generation of Republican activists who’ve grown up in the age of smash-mouth politics and have come to like it.
Instead, like adding the catchphrase “new and improved” to your packaging of a tube of toothpaste, you simply change the brand. The old slogans have lost their pizzazz and it’s time for some new ones.
By comparison — despite Trump’s apocalyptic warnings that Biden will usher in a socialist takeover of America — the Democratic message was old and shopworn 20 years ago when Gore lost to Bush and things, from an advertising perspective, haven’t gotten much better.
You’d think that the party that brought you the 40-hour week, the eight-hour day, child labor laws, the right to collectively bargain, workers’ compensation, Social Security and Medicare could stop talking about helping the poor and disadvantaged.
It’s like a broken record. Equal rights for all … even people of color and gays. Making healthcare not a privilege but a fundamental right of citizenship, like it is in every other industrialized country and is for Americans older than 65.
Making matters even worse for the Democrats is their damned insistence on following the established rules of the game. Like giving a president’s nominee for the Supreme Court a hearing before the hanging. Or gracefully handing the baton to an incoming administration when the vote goes the other way.
Well, the Democrats certainly have their problems, but among them isn’t changing their brand with every new shift in the political wind.
The Republicans, in fear of becoming as they once were, a permanent minority, changed their brand all right. They are now the party of Donald J. Trump.
Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.
A lifelong activist, Steve McGehee settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.