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Republicans Still Bungling GOP Rebranding

January 18, 2013

You can't make this stuff up. One day after being instructed "stop talking about rape," House Republicans attending their caucus' secret conclave will listen to a panel on Friday titled, "Discussion on Successful Communication with Minorities and Women." Unfortunately, that session will be held in the Kingsmill Resort's "Burwell Plantation" room, named after a prominent Virginia slaveholding family. As it turns out, confusing literal branding with "rebranding" is only the latest in the continuing comedy of errors that is the GOP's extremist makeover.

After the party's latest mauling among women, Hispanics and African-American voters, GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway was dispatched to the House retreat to provide some quick diversity training. Noting that GOP candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were legitimately crushed for lecturing about "legitimate rape," Conway told the assembled House Republicans to shut that whole thing down:

Conway said rape is a "four-letter word," and Republicans simply need to stop talking about it in their races for office.

But if Conway's quixotic mission sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Because back in February 2008, the Republican National Committee launched an effort to "protect the GOP from charges of racism or sexism in the general election, as they prepare for a presidential campaign against the first ever African-American or female Democratic nominee." Helping prepare the GOP for it more politically correct campaign against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama was the very same Kellyanne Conway:

The Republican National Committee has commissioned polling and focus groups to determine the boundaries of attacking a minority or female candidate, according to people involved. The secretive effort underscores the enormous risk senior GOP operatives see for a party often criticized for its insensitivity to minorities in campaigns dating back to the 1960s...
..."Republicans will need to exercise less deafness and more deftness in dealing with a different looking candidate, whether it is a woman or a black man," Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway said. "But at the same time, really charge back at any insinuation or accusation of sexism or racism.
"You can't allow the party to be Macaca-ed," she continued, referring to a much-publicized remark made by former GOP Sen. George Allen that played a significant role in his 2006 defeat. "I think the standards are higher and the bar is lower for the Republican Party."

Five years later, the persistence of Birtherism within the Republican ranks, a slander encouraged by the 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, suggests Conway's message fell on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans led by John Boehner were attempting a rebranding of their own in the wake of the devastating 2006 midterm elections President Bush called a "thumpin'." In an acknowledgement that former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis was right when he concluded "Republican brand is in the trash can...if we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf," Boehner launched an overhaul of the GOP's image in the spring of 2008. For Republicans, the result was literally depressing. On May 20, 2008, Jason Linkins pointed out the fitting irony of Boehner's new GOP slogan, "The Change You Deserve."

In today's New York Times' Caucus blog, Carl Hulse reports that House Republicans have got themselves a brand-new slogan...What the GOP doesn't seem to realize, because they are idiots, is that "the change you deserve" is the registered advertising slogan of Effexor XR. ... also known as Venlafaxine, is approved for the treatment "of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder in adults."

The hilarity didn't end there. As Linkins noted, FDA took issue with the company over the Effexor ad "saying that the company made "unsubstantiated superiority claims."
But the Republican soul-searching wasn't finished. After Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats administered another beat-down in November 2008, the GOP's best-and-brightest once again initiated a facelift for the party. In April 2009, Republicans rolled out their next rebranding project:

It will report to GOP congressional leaders, and among those signing the announcement that will be made public Thursday are House GOP Leader John Boehner, House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, the No. 2 Senate Republican, Jon Kyl, and the Senate GOP Conference Chairman, Lamar Alexander.
"However, this is not a Republican-only forum," reads the letter announcing the new effort, a copy of which was obtained by CNN from Republican sources involved in the effort. "While we will be guided by our principles of freedom and security, we will seek to include more than just our ideas."

The 2009 reprogramming came to nothing. But in a sneak preview of his 2012 presidential defeat, Mitt Romney offered this classic during a town hall gathering with Jeb Bush and Eric Cantor:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney compared the GOP to Americans fighting the British during the Revolutionary War. "We are the party of the revolutionaries, they [Democrats] are the party of the monarchists," he told the overwhelmingly Republican crowd, saying the Republicans needed to "once again lead the American Revolution."

Despite their bumbling, Republicans scored an overwhelming victory in the 2010 midterms. But that triumph came not because they told new truths about their party, but because they successfully lied about Democrats. After all, there were no" death panels." President Obama did not raise but cut taxes for 98 percent of working Americans. And the Affordable Care Act did not slash Medicare benefits.
Still, history may yet repeat itself in 2014. Despite the GOP's current bungling, the party is likely to hold its House majority due to lower midterm turnout (usually 40 percent compared to near 60 percent in presidential elections), their unprecedented gerrymandering of districts and the rapid decline in the number of contested seats. So while the latest GOP rebranding initiative needs no laugh track, next year the joke may still be on us.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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