The Republican brand – does it matter?



By Bob Gardner

In case you missed it, the Republican brand is in trouble. (I’m speaking nationally. In California, it’s non-existent.)

Today’s GOP is not so grand, definitely old and a kinda-sorta party. This has been confirmed from all ends of the age spectrum, from college Republicans to Bob Dole.

Hispanics hate us. Young people think we’re dinosaurs on social issues. Conservative talk show hosts say we’re unprincipled, spineless compromisers. The establishment media loves to play up our internal differences and squabbles, parsing the differences between, say, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

So what’s a Party to do?

Yes, we hold the House, a majority of governorships and state legislatures, but the funk is pervasive. Should we go more Tea Party, or would a revival of the moderate wing help the brand? Not much agreement. But just because we as a party are factionalized, disheartened, depressed and brandless doesn’t mean we can’t continue to win elections. Hell, even if the overall brand is in trouble, it doesn’t mean people won’t buy a product they like. Most people hate Microsoft, but lots of people buy Windows.

Fortunately, we’ve seen this movie before – a long period from 1952 to 1980 – Ike to Reagan – when the Republican Party brand was an albatross. (Now, it’s all George Bush’s fault. Then, it was all Herbert Hoover’s fault.) Yet Republican candidates at all levels were constantly elected throughout the country.

How did they pull this off? Simple: to the extent possible, they stayed in the closet, party-wise. Sure, they were on the ballot as Republicans, and their Democrat opponents took every opportunity to paint them as evil, but many defied gravity. Those who were elected were “yes/but” Republicans. So the message was, “Yes, I’m a Republican, but in spite of your perception of the party, I’m more competent, more trustworthy, more independent and more likeable than my opponent. I’ll do a better job.”

Since most voters still vote for the guy they like best, regardless of party brand or actual accomplishments (see: Obama, Barack H.), this strategy has legs. Personality, intelligence, integrity, conviction – plus people and political skills don’t hurt either.

Dems, of course, do the same thing. When was the last time a candidate, outside of California or Massachusetts, got on TV to proclaim his undying liberalism? Now, they’re “progressives” – funnily enough a former Republican term. And in competitive districts there will be collective amnesia on their votes for Obamacare, and long explanations placing the blame elsewhere for its miserable rollout.

So don’t despair, Republicans. Our brand may be in the tank, but a basic Republican values message – less intrusive government, lower taxes, a booming economy and a strong defense – will still resonate and sell when delivered by the right candidate.

While the Party sorts out the branding, we still have elections to win. And after we win, let’s hope great candidates turn into great elected officials. That’s the best brand builder there is.

• • •

Bob Gardener is president of The Advocacy Group, Inc. in San Francisco and has done political ads for Gerald Ford, Dick Cheney, George HW Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman. He lives in Sonoma.

  • Chris Scott

    Plenty of popcorn & soda at the ready. This is going to be fun.

  • Robert Piazza

    Thankfully there is an alternative party to the current socialist leaning Democratic party.
    As for the Tea Party, it is not an organized and legitimate party. It is a group of like minded conservative thinking folks that come from middle America and hold the values this country was built on as being fundamental to the survival of the Republic as we have known it!

  • The Village Idiot

    . . .talk about “polishing the turd.”

  • The Village Idiot

    In the Old Neighborhood, this was called “polishing the turd.” It gets all slick and shiny but the smell is the same.

  • Phineas Worthington

    The Republican party has an incredible talent at alienating whole swaths of the population when they take positions on wedge social issues. They should focus on their only strength relative to Democrats, their economic policy rhetoric that embrace property rights and free exchange. Independents decide elections now and they tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, a combination poorly represented by the party system.

  • Tom Sokolowski

    Bob, It’s not your “Republican brand” that’s in trouble; it’s your message: A less intrusive government except where gay civil rights and a woman’s body is concerned, lower taxes mostly for the rich, a booming economy at the expense of the American worker, and a strong defense….not so much anymore since Obama ended the two wars Bush started but couldn’t finish and killed Ben Laden.
    The Democratic message is better: For our voting rights, for our environment, for women’s rights, for gay rights, for ending wars, for job programs, for our educational and health care systems, and for helping the poor and disadvantaged improve their lives.
    I’m more concerned about these issues than I am the Republican Brand, which is why the Republican Party will slowly diminish into irrelevance.

    • Phineas Worthington

      The 100 year experiment in progressivism/socialism is a failure.

      • Tom Sokolowski

        Yes, let’s turn the clock back 100 years and forget it was progressive Democrats who helped women get the right to vote, who helped create Social Security and Medicare, who helped end segregation and helped pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, who created the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the GI Bill, the ‘Space Program, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and our current labor laws outlawing child labor and giving us a 40 hour work week, while your people started wars they couldn’t finish, outsourced our jobs to China, and gave tax breaks to the rich.
        By the way, since you are so against socialism, when you retire and start collecting Social Security, could you please send your social security checks to me? Wouldn’t want you to compromise your principles and become a “Socialist.”

        • Phineas Worthington

          Tom, I pay a good man $35/hr which costs me $50/hr to employ him while he earns $25/hr after taxes. It is no mystery to some of us why the job creation machine of the private sector is so sclerotic. And why the black market in labor is so vigorous.

          I look forward to the day partisan progressives become more serious about helping the poor with higher wages through market mechanisms rather than government coercion.

  • wayne

    Tom..How long are you going to keep mentioning, ” the two wars Bush started”? Are you
    serious??? What’s next, are you going to lecture us on the war FDR started with Japan
    in 1941?? I know your extreme Leftist friends ( the one’s that make you look Right Wing)
    probably think Bush started the Afghan conflict and we should not have gone there but
    the are a fringe minority.