It was almost exactly three months ago that the Republican National Committee unveiled its “autopsy” for what went wrong in 2012, along with a blueprint for what the party needs to do to get back on track. When it came to the unpopular party’s future, the word “rebranding” was ubiquitous.
Three months later, how’s that working out?
The fight for the direction of the Republican Party will be on display Thursday at a Washington conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group created by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed. Designed to strengthen the evangelical influence in national politics, the conference gives many religious conservative activists their first look at potential 2016 presidential candidates.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul are among those set to address the coalition on Thursday. Republican stars on the schedule Friday and Saturday include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus.
Reed, who inexplicably has overcome career-crushing scandals, told the AP, “Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the pro-life, pro-family and pro-marriage positions that candidates have taken and will take in the future are not a liability at the ballot box, they’re an asset.”
There’s ample evidence that the RNC disagrees, but doesn’t quite know what to do about it – if the party reaches out to voters currently hostile towards Republicans, it will alienate the base; if it panders to the party’s older, whiter core, Republicans will continue to struggle to connect with new constituencies it needs to compete.
So what we’re left with is a political landscape that’s effectively the opposite of the one Reince Priebus hoped for in March. The “rebranding” campaign appeared to have crashed and burned with remarkable speed.
Greg Sargent had a great take on this earlier today.
Consider what the House GOP is up to right now. House Republicans recently passed an immigration amendment, pushed by anti-reform diehard Steve King, that would effectively mandate the deportation of the “DREAMers” who were taken to the U.S. as children. House Republicans are planning a vote next week on a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, after defeating amendments that would exempt cases of rape or incest. And yesterday, House Republicans approved a version of the 2012 National Defense Reauthorization Act that contains what The Advocate calls “three controversial, antigay amendments, one of which is aimed at delaying repeal implementation of don’t ask, don’t tell.”
What do these three things have in common? They would seem to run directly counter to the belief among some Republican strategists that the party needs to move beyond cultural battles and preoccupations that imperil the GOP’s ability to remake itself as a more tolerant, inclusive party and to better reach out to constituencies it has alienated.
We can, of course, keep going down this road. How do you suppose Trent Franks’ comments help with the party’s reputation? Or maybe the other recent flashbacks to the “war on women”? Or perhaps the fight over student-loan interest rates, recently dismissed by a GOP lawmaker as a trivial “distraction”?
In the wake of the party’s 2012 setbacks, the RNC envisioned a dynamic in which the party spent 2013 narrowing the gender gap, reaching out to racial and ethnic minorities, boosting its appeal among young people, and demonstrating to the American mainstream that the party has a policy agenda intended to solve problems people care about.
And yet, here we are. The party will spend the next couple of days pandering to Ralph Reed and his religious-right allies – so much for the “Old Testament heretics” line – while fighting immigration reform, pushing yet another anti-abortion bill that has no chance of becoming law, and letting student-loan interest rates double.
So long, rebranding initiative; it was nice while it lasted.