Posted by: JanF | September 14, 2011

The GOP Brand, Part 1 – The Public Face

The GOP brand has been coated in Teflon for years. No matter what Republicans have done, the terrible awful stuff simply slid off and their ideology went unquestioned even as evidence of their failures became more and more apparent.

In a two-part post, we will look at the GOP brand and opportunities for 2012. Today we look at the brand and how it has changed yet remained the same. Tomorrow, we look at some strategies for making sure that the Republicans are made to wear the GOP brand that we are seeing in 2011 and which is being embraced by the 2012 presidential candidates to garner favor with Republican primary voters.

You scratch my back, I’ll take your money and energy

Republicans have constantly adjusted their message, but not their policies, to find energized coalitions to help them win elections and retain power.

The end game is simple. More wealth and privilege for the wealthy and privileged and an increasingly mean existence for everyone else: essentially repealing the 20th century.

George W. Bush jokingly called the have-mores, the wealthiest 1% of the country, his base. Those have-mores have always been the force behind the Republican party. Their challenge has been that there are simply not enough of them to win elections. They need to create alliances with other groups who will bring the voters and the energy to get those voters to the polls on election day.

In recent years, that group was the religious right. Prior to that, it was those with anger over civil rights and uppity women and dark skinned people taking their jobs. From Nixon to Reagan to Bush, the Republicans got their base activated through social causes to advance the agenda of the moneyed interests.

In scientific terms, this is called symbiosis “close and often long-term interactions between different biological species.” They may as well be different species. The churchgoers sending $5 to the Republican party and the tassled-loafer Wall Street crowd had nothing in common except who they voted for.

There are two kinds of symbiotic relationships, “obligate” where the two species depend on each other for survival and “facultative” where they gain advantages from each other but are not dependent.

The Wall Street Republicans are dependent on an energized base. However, their alliances can be fluid because that base does not have to be the same group. In fact, when a group no longer suits their purposes, they are jettisoned and a new group becomes the base. They have dependency but not dependency on a specific group.

The face of the GOP

So what does this have to do with the GOP brand? Well, it means that the face of the Republican party is always going to be the face of the group that they need in order to stay in power. And that is where the chance for a misstep can occur because if that face becomes ugly the brand could become tarnished.

The GOP brand has managed to keep its luster despite what should have been fatal wounds over the years.

Margaret Chase Smith was convinced that the Republican party had whacked itself during the Joe McCarthy years:

… I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.

I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest”.

McCarthyism didn’t do it. It didn’t even slow them down.

Watergate exposing the ugly underbelly of corrupt Republicans? Out of power for 4 years.

Terrible recessions, unemployment and unseemly connections with right-wing domestic and international terrorists? Out of power for 2 years.

Global financial crisis, wars of choice running up debt, incompetence and mismanagement? Out of power for 2 years.

Themes or schemes …

So where are we now? Here are the dominant GOP themes that have been promoted and sold over the years:
– GOP Strong on Defense
– GOP Promotes Family Values
– GOP Fiscally Conservative

Do you recognize anything there that has a basis in reality? I don’t. Since 2000, the Republicans committed our country into two wars of choice, they tortured and lied, their leaders were shown to be hypocrites who stood up in the halls of Congress claiming purity while paying off mistresses, disposing of inconvenient wives and living secret lives that they decried in public for others.

And they ran our country into trillions of dollars of debt handing tax cuts to the wealthy and by elevating greed above the national good, crashing our economy and plunging us into the Great Recession.

In 2008, the GOP brand appeared to be in tatters as they suffered defeats in two successive election cycles.

But like a zombie party they rose from the dead, this time by creating and nurturing the Tea Party movement. A movement made up of people willing to ignore the economic realities of governing during a financial crisis and who became convinced that the federal budget deficit was the most important problem facing our country.

The GOP brand had once again regained its luster.

But the Tea Party came with some baggage. The Republicans had to convince voters that Democrats would defund Medicare and set up death panels. They had to convince voters that the Republican party could fix the deficit problem that they themselves had created with their tax cuts and corporate welfare. They had to convince people that they cared about jobs and they had to frighten people into thinking that the President of the United States was not an American citizen, that he hated America and that he was for a weak America internationally.

They convinced enough voters but the only way to do it was by deception. Deception about what they would do when they won and more importantly, deception about who they were really serving.

Then the wheels came off. Not just one wheel but a whole bunch of wheels all at once: Overreaching governors in multiple states. Demonization of public workers including teachers and public safety workers. A rush to sell off state resources and to sell access to the levers of power. And by completely ignoring the promises they had made to create jobs and to save Medicare and to get America on the right track.

In 4 months, the Tea Party Republican governors and the Tea Party Republican freshmen in the House of Representatives exposed the GOP brand for what it really was: a wholly owned subsidiary of moneyed interests intent not on making government small enough to fit into a bathtub to drown it but making government a for-profit business selling services back to the taxpayers.

Real damage or same old same old?

So this time, is the damage real or is it just a flesh wound?

Ground zero for testing the fallout from the overreach is Wisconsin. Democratic party strategist Mike Tate :

… we’re experiencing an ongoing correction, an extreme visceral recoil from Republican Party politics,” Tate responded. “Both at the local level with what’s happening with Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, and at the national level. I think what this does is bring more oxygen to the fire.”

The polls reflect this:

A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Thursday found that 47 percent of those surveyed said they have unfavorable views of the tea party, compared with just 33 percent who said they have favorable views.

By August, those reacting favorably to tea partyism dipped to 25% with a sharp drop of 14% in approval by independent voters.

Right now the GOP brand is intricately tied to the tea party movement. The freshmen House members all came in on the tea party wave. The Republican governors whose approval ratings after 4 months in office range from 30% to 45% are tea party governors.

The GOP brand is Paul Ryan claiming we can’t afford to care for those who need help, it is repealing Medicare, it is Donald Trump and birther politics, it is fiscal irresponsibility and it is breaking promises.

Tomorrow afternoon, we will look at some ways to make sure that the GOP brand cannot be repackaged for 2012 and beyond.

(A version of this was originally posted on 05/18/2011 at BPI Campus)



  1. The tassled loafer crowd is getting a bit nervous with Rick Perry’s rise:

    The [Pawlenty] endorsement was a visible marker in a quietly continuing battle for the soul and direction of the Republican Party between traditional party leaders and grass-roots conservatives.

    Gosh! Why would this bother them?

    The intense focus on [Social Security] has caused anxiety among some Republicans working to win a Senate majority and keep control of the House next year.

    Regarding this:

    The balancing act between the Republican establishment and the activists who have gained prominence in the Tea Party movement has been unfolding for nearly two years, testing a party that wants to corral its enthusiasm without alienating moderate voters.

    You really cannot harness crazy. All you can do is watch in horror as it unfolds.

  2. Your writing is very thoughtful. Thank you.

    • Thanks, princesspat.

      (I am glad you figured out how to comment as Guest)

  3. Thanks for the help……now I’ll try the WordPress option.

  4. Great stuff, Jan. One thing I’ve been thinking hard about for awhile, and it’s beginning to gel a bit. One of the strengths of the GOP with the rural voter is the connection to self-reliance. Many working- and middle-class folks in the less densely populated areas maintain a strong sense, even a mythology, of the self-reliant American. Big city people are almost required to have an appreciation for organization and specialization, neither of which are fully compatible with self-reliance. Of course there’s a spectrum there, but as with many things we see concentration towards extremes. The “government bad,” “welfare mother,” “300 million teets” memes resonate with those who want to be self-reliant (however much most of them are deluding themselves). I think that’s a huge marketing hurdle to overcome for the Democratic brand… that self-reliant people need the gov’t’s aid. It’s interesting to connect these concepts with your previous post on disaster relief and the end of the sillies (we hope).

    Good to read you! Hope you’re well. A bunch of us are hanging out at the Motley Moose.

    • Thanks for stopping in, bubbanomics.

      The image of a self-reliant American is actually belied in many ways by the community in place in rural America. They rely a lot on each other: from barn raisings after a fire to bringing food over when Mabel is sick to helping ol’ Nate down the road get his crop in after his tractor broke down.

      They don’t see the government as a helpful adjunct to the community. If we could convince them that it is okay to depend on the government for help … that they are just like the neighbor but with more cash (and a bigger army) maybe we could agree that Good Government has a role.

      (I popped into MM for a bit and read but didn’t have time to engage. I couldn’t figure out where to talk! I do have an account)

  5. Indeed… the level of self-reliance inversely correlates with the interdependency of the community. In some sense, you could have a giant community of completely self reliant individuals, but it would not be much of a “community.”

    The evolution of complexity produces its own problems… different specializations bring different levels of compensation, and without some kind of limiters (requiring societal norms and government), inequities expand. Such problems are also difficult for the self-reliant to appreciate fully.

    • I hope that someday we can convince the “self-reliant” that there is a lot that they need government for and that if they would work with us (progressives) instead of against us, it could be made better. They have more in common with us than they do with the wealthiest 1% of our country who their politics support.

      It is sort of ironic because the biggest users of the Commons (that top 1%) are the ones who are dead set against helping to fund it. The working class and what is left of the middle class is keeping the infrastructure from crumbling around them. Short sighted, to say the least.