Since the last presidential election, moderate GOP strategists have been calling for a party rebranding, going so far as to issue an "autopsy report" in March detailing specific demographic weaknesses. The prescription: be more inclusive toward women and minorities, and avoid proselytizing on social issues in favor of focusing on a strong fiscal message.
Chairman of the RNC Reince Priebus told CBS' Bob Schieffer after the autopsy, "We've done a really lousy job of branding and marketing who we are. One of the things we brought out of this is not just branding and marketing during election time, but year-round."
Priebus was talking about a $10 million dollar outreach campaign--another of the autopsy's prescriptions--targeting women, minorities and LGBT individuals at a series of RNC hiring events across the country. But Priebus was wrong about one thing: the GOP is being branded year-round--by the party's right wing.
Some Republicans, it seems, just can't help themselves. After calling Wendy Davis' filibuster of a Texas abortion bill a "highjacking of the Democratic process," Gov. Rick Perry said of the entire pro-choice movement in his state, "the louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done.” Phrasing this indelicate must make Priebus cringe.
After the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional, a number of Republicans did precisely what the autopsy warned them against: proselytize.
"We need to pray. We need to pray," said Rep. Michelle Bachmann. "We need to confess our sins as a nation, and we need to pray and ask God for his holy intervention, and for his forgiveness."
"I think polygamy is wrong, bigamy is wrong, and it's a crime in many places--but how will that be justifiable now that the court has removed this?" Rep. Louie Gohmert said. "There's some [who] believe polygamy is a way to go."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tweeted his thoughts on the SCOTUS decision, "Jesus wept."
The GOP is a party of two minds or, rather, two hands. The one hand insists that rebranding is necessary, that LGBT individuals must be a part of the coalition moving forward, while the other hand ostracizes the LGBT community with intolerant rhetoric.
One hand wants more women to identify as Republican, the other "find[s] it completely hypocritical for everyone to be up in arms about military sexual assault, but then want to cast women into high stress small unit combat elements," as former Rep. Allen West wrote on his Facebook recently. "The objective is obvious: destroy the last bastions of American warrior culture all for the advancement of a misguided vision of fairness and equality."
One hand believes that Hispanics share conservative values and makes a genuine effort on immigration reform, while the other tweets something like this, from Rep. Steve King: "20 brazen self professed illegal aliens have just invaded my DC office. Obama's lawless order gives them de facto immunity from U.S. law."
"We’ve done a pretty lousy job of connecting in the Latino community," Priebus said just Saturday, echoing his post-autopsy phrasing. "We’ve missed out on opportunities to build better relationships."
Establishment Republicans like Karl Rove fear for the party's future if it continues to alienate minority voters. In a recent op-ed for the Walls Street Journal, Rove wrote, "If the GOP leaves nonwhite voters to the Democrats, then its margins in safe congressional districts and red states will dwindle—not overnight, but over years and decades...Republicans must now do two things: turn out more white voters and improve their performance among Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans."
Alex Isenstadt over at Politico finds the root of the GOP's political split in their expertly accomplished redistricting--or gerrymandering--in 2010. By re-drawing the lines so that red districts became blood red districts, the GOP locked in their House majority, maybe until 2020, when the once-in-a-decade process is allowed to happen again.
The result is that many conservative Republicans feel less threatened by Democrats than by members of their own party who are still further right. Rebranding advocates may want these pols to reach across the aisle to achieve compromises that will bolster the party's image, but why would they do so? They're incentivized to be partisan.
"Are the structural aspects of our politics such that no matter how aggressively Republicans pursue policies that risk alienating core voter groups they need to improve their appeal among, it won’t materially impact the party’s fortunes?" wonders the Plum Line's Greg Sargent. "Is there a point at which any of this matters?"
Democrats like Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic National Campaign Committee, seem to think so, and are trying to exploit the long-term tensions created by GOP infighting.
“The problem for many Republicans in these specific districts is that if they’re less partisan, they face a primary from the right. If they protect themselves from a primary by being more partisan, they’re in trouble in the general election,” Israel told Politico. “They’re getting squeezed. We’re going to make sure that hole is very small.”
It's up to Republican leaders to unify the competing factions of their party--though previous efforts to superintend the far right have often been embarrassing--or else both sides will continue to brand at cross-purposes, and the GOP will remain in a stalemate with itself.