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Why is the Republican "brand" in trouble?
Posted by: McQ on Monday, November 10, 2008

John Hawkins provides a succinct list of categories which supposedly represent the Republican party's ideology but instead demonstrate why the Republican "brand" is in seeming disarray:
What Is The GOP Brand Promise?

First off, what is the "GOP Brand Promise?" Of course, there is certainly a lot of debate about this subject, but I'd suggest that it can be broken down into some very basic categories...

* Limited government.
* Fiscal responsibility.
* Low taxes
* Traditional values.
* Law and order.
* Clean government.
* Personal responsibility.
* A strong national defense.
* Patriotism.

Granted, you could easily add quite a few more items onto that list, especially if you wanted to really get deep into specifics, but I think that's a fairly representative list.

Ruining The Brand

If the items listed above make up what people want from the GOP brand, are the people who like our brand getting what they expect? Of course, the answers would vary from person to person, but I'd suggest that in several areas, we're not delivering what we promise.

For example consider how the following policies contradict our brand image,

Limited government: The bailout, the Medicare Prescription Drug Program, nationalizing banks.

Fiscal responsibility: Large deficits through the Bush years.

Law and order: Support for illegal immigration.

Clean government: Jack Abramhoff, Duke Cunningham, Don Young, Ted Stevens.

Personal Responsibility: The bailout. Support for illegal immigration.
I'd add some things to that list. Under limited government - No Child Left Behind. Law and Order: torture. And I'm sure others can add even more.

Note what Hawkins doesn't list under the brand - social con issues. That's not to say that such issues aren't important to many who identify themselves as "Republicans", but are they a part of the "brand" per se? Or should they be?

My opinion on that, for what it is worth, is their inclusion in a "branding" of the Republican party is the surest way I know to make the party politically irrelevant and relegate it to a regional party (one of, as Kevin Whalen says, old southern white people).

That's not to say that Republicans should or must eschew those values or exclude social cons from their midst. But it is to say those are personal values which shouldn't be any sort of litmus test for membership. It is tricky, but it is a minefield the Republicans have got to agree to avoid. Those values are personal values to be sold culturally, not imposed politically. That difference has to be made clear.

Take a look at Hawkins list again. Those are all "saleable" items which can and have been embraced by majorities in this country. That was the brand that elected Ronald Reagan.

But you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and with the introduction of "compassionate conservatism" - a political oxymoron if ever there was one - big government and increased spending destroyed that brand. It wasn't Democrats who came up with a better idea necessarily, it was Republicans who walked away from being what they claimed to represent that led to their demise and their present condition.

In simple terms, what Republicans have to do is quit being Democrat lite. For some reason the Republicans came to believe that they could hold (and increase) power if they became more like their political opponents (they'd hold their base and take away the middle). As they gradually discovered, all that did was push more and more voters toward the "real thing". And now their brand is in disarray.

Smart packaging, innovative use of technology and new leadership are necessary for the rebranding of the Republican party. John Hawkins list is the perfect place to start and his examples of their failures in each of the specific items a lesson to be learned. Unfortunately for them, with the retention of John Boehner as the minority leader in the House, it seems they've already punted on at least part of the leadership change necessary.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

The republicans will be toast for a while. I can’t see any behavior that will get them back to the path.
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
I would agree with you on the social issues except one. Right to life. It might be possible to keep a lot of social conservatives on board, as well as those, like me, who are afraid of the government having too much say in life issues, by simply standing firm on protecting life, as well as standing for judicial restraint.

Then if the social conservatives try to push other measures like opposition to gay marriage and the drug war, we tell them they are on their own.

Each group in the party should get one or two big issues, and ignore the rest. It really makes more sense to run on only a handful of issues. If you try to do too much you just dilute your message.
Written By: kyleN
The GOP ruined it’s brand.

Those kinds of things are very tough to recover from. New faces - with the traditional winning ideas- need to be placed in leadership and visibility roles.
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I forget who said it, but some wise Democrat once characterized the current batch of Republicans in power as "Cut Taxes and Spend Republicans" in contrast to "Tax and Spend Democrats." Apt. "Compassionate Conservatism" is like an apology. It says "Why yes, in the past we have wanted to cut off lunch for school kids and money for old folks." So don’t worry, we’ll dump a gazilion dollars on the worst educational program ever and a flaw "drugs for old-timers" plan.

It’s "New Coke" for the Republican party, and any remaining vestiges of it must be jettisoned tout suite.

Having said that, the answer to Republican woes is obvious: Go positive. Instead of trying to sell the negative of cutting entitlements, for instance, sell the increased freedom to succeed in a more active market place. It’s what Reagan did, and it’s very appealing.

The mantra that first got me interested in the Republican party was Reagan’s "Nine most terrifying words in the English language." Yeah, that doesn’t hold water when the Republicans in power are pushing a helpful government as hard as the Democrats (if not harder at times.)
Written By: Ronnie Gipper
I agree with the go positive idea. The population has been indoctrinated with doom and gloom by the democrats, as well as by a LOT of republicans. People will vote for the party they believe will protect them in this "doom and gloom" world. The republicans ruined the brand by buying into the negativity and trying to pander to the the scared voter.

However, if we can show the people that the future is wide open and anyone can succeed, then they will vote for the party that will get out of their way and let them succeed. The list by John Hawkins is a great list. The republicans should take that list and learn it, love it, live it.
Written By: jjmurphy
I agree with the article, especially the parts that McQ added, as if he was reading my mind.

I also agree with KyleN about life. I believe the say goes, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are already well on our way of eliminating the pursuit part of it as it is. Seems a majority would rather let the government take take of us.
Written By: wilky
URL: http://
Note what Hawkins doesn’t list under the brand - social con issues. That’s not to say that such issues aren’t important to many who identify themselves as "Republicans", but are they a part of the "brand" per se? Or should they be?
What do you think "traditional values" are? Bush and congressional Democrats have largely towed the line on social conservatism. Where they have failed utterly is fiscal conservatism, limited government, and basic ethics.

I’m fine with limiting federal power to dogood if it means removing hindrances for private efforts to do the same.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
I will remind you, Bruce, that not having a litms test for certain basic values is how we ended up with McCain.

As for ’Go Positive’... No. Not only no, but HELL no.
Look, guys, what we here is a sitrep where Obama wanted to be presdient, and MCain wanted to be ’nice’. Both apparently got what they wanted.

Written By: Bithead
The "be positive" message has nothing to do with being nice, or pandering, at least in my mind. It has to do with getting the positive message across that you, the voter, can do anything you put your mind to. That government is there to provide the minimum necessary framework (courts, military) to allow you to live your life and pursue you happiness. This would initially be viewed as "not nice" at all. It is a gentle way of saying get of your lazy ass and get to work on your dreams.

Doom and gloom is easy. Being positive is not easy.

* Limited government.
* Fiscal responsibility.
* Low taxes
* Traditional values.
* Law and order.
* Clean government.
* Personal responsibility.
* A strong national defense.
* Patriotism.

These are tremendously positive items. They need to be sold as the antidote to the "end of the American Dream" people.
Written By: jjmurphy
It has to do with getting the positive message across that you, the voter, can do anything you put your mind to.
Not bad, but it also avoids the problems with the Democrat brand and it’s followers, the truth of which is often, indeed usually, negative in the extreme.McCain refused to relate those truths himself, and as a result the message got muddled.

Written By: Bithead
The message sure did get muddled, as well as mangled, distorted, shredded, kicked, pummeled. And that was just by the republicans!

You are also right about McCain.
Written By: jjmurphy
and MCain wanted to be ’nice’.
I believe this is true. McCain softballed Obama right up to "Joe the Plumber" and then began pouring it on. He got in some snarky swipes via YouTube ads earlier, but for the most part he took the milquetoast highway to defeat.

Contrast to Obama who was selling positives. Empty, platitudinous positives, but positives just the same: "Change" "Hope". It struck me as odd to hear a hard lefty speak glowingly of Reagan, but it makes sense in light of the kind of campaign Obama ran. He dipped into the socialist-lite version of "Morning in America" and got cozy.

It is possible to be gallantly and civilly against an opponent. With Reagan we see "I’m paying for this microphone" and "There you go again". Flippancy. I thought McCain had figured that out, starting with his Paris Hilton/Barack Obama ad. I was wrong. (It turns out the Palin pick was not a flippant joke either. [insert rimshot])

In the final analysis, and "lipstick on a pig" not withstanding, I’d say Obama out-Reaganed Reagan. If that campaignmanship (is that a word? It should be) had been coupled with an message of less intrusive government, more money in people’s pockets, and restoring America to its rightful stature as "The Shining City upon a Hill" he would have had the landslide he so craved. I would’ve voted for him.

But then he would have been a "real" Republican. Or at best, a Blue Dog.
Written By: Ronnie Gipper
Obama is re-defining liberalism. Conservatism needs to be re-defined to, made relevant for a new century. Here’s some serious advice:
Written By: Scott Erb
Of course the GOP needs a positive message. Because if the Dems screw up, the negative message will already be naturally available to act as the counter-point. Obama can sell hope and change, but only if hope and change is needed due to Bush’s unpopularity.

The right desperately needs to triangulate a bit on the social issues, but unfortunately, the social cons have a hard time accepting this. Rightly so, since it deals with their religious beliefs.

But notice how the Dems have triangulated on these issues quite well:

Abortion needs to be "rare." Gay marriage is simply abandoned.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://

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