GOP: Rebranding vs. Rethinking

WASHINGTON — Rebranding is trendy in the Republican Party.

Rep. Eric Cantor gave a major speech on Tuesday to advance the effort. Gov. Bobby Jindal wants the GOP to stop being the “stupid party.” Karl Rove is setting up a PAC (it’s what he does these days) to defeat right-wing crazies who cost the party Senate seats.

But there’s a big difference between rebranding — this implies the product is fine but needs to be sold better — and pursuing a different approach to governing. Here’s an early action report.

The good news: Some Republicans have decided the party moved too far to the right and are backing off long-standing positions on tax increases, guns and immigration. Their new flexibility, combined with President Obama’s new post-election aggressiveness, is producing a quiet revolution in Washington. The place is becoming less dysfunctional.

Congress has already passed a substantial tax increase, Republicans avoided a debt ceiling fight, and the ice is breaking on guns and immigration.

The mixed news: A lot of the rebranding efforts are superficial yet nonetheless reflect an awareness that the party has been asking the wrong questions, talking about the wrong issues and limiting the range of voters it’s been addressing.

This is why Cantor’s speech was more important than the policies he outlined, which were primarily conservative retreads. His intervention proved that Obama and progressives are changing the terms of the debate, much as Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s.

Cantor wasn’t making the case for smaller government or tax cuts for the “job creators.” He was asking what government could do for the middle class — “to provide relief to so many millions of Americans who just want their life to work again.”

No wonder Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the Democrats’ most subtle strategists, jumped at the chance to praise Cantor for taking “the first step towards finding common ground in agreeing on the problem you are trying to solve.” If the debate is about who will be nicer to business or who will cut taxes, Republicans win. What Schumer understands is that if the issue is providing relief for the middle class (and for workers, immigrants and low-income children), Republicans are competing over questions on which progressives have the advantage.

The bad news: In some states where Republicans control all the levers of power, they are rushing ahead with astonishingly right-wing programs to eviscerate government while shifting the tax burden toward the middle class and the poor and away from the wealthy. In trying to build Koch Brothers’ dystopias, they are turning states in laboratories of reaction.

As Neil King Jr. and Mark Peters reported in a Wall Street Journal article on the “Red State model,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has slashed both income taxes and spending. This drew fire from moderate and moderately conservative Republican legislators, whom he then helped purge in primaries. Jindal is talking about ending Louisiana’s personal and corporate income taxes and replacing the revenue with sales tax increases — a stunningly naked transfer of resources from the poor and the middle class to the rich.

This deeply anti-majoritarian, anti-populist approach explains the really bad news: Some Republicans show signs of no longer worrying about winning majorities at all. They have already put in place a gerrymander that has created a now-misnamed House of Representatives since it’s unrepresentative of how voters cast their ballots in congressional races last fall. Some are trying to rig the Electoral College in a way that would have let Mitt Romney win the presidency even as he lost by just under 5 million popular votes.

And they are willing to use the Senate’s arcane rules and right-wing courts in tandem to foil the policy wishes of a majority of Congress and the president — witness the precedent-less U.S. Court of Appeals ruling voiding Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The president took this course because intransigent Republican senators blocked the nominations. There should be a greater outcry against such an anti-democratic power play.

What’s the overall balance sheet? Level Republican heads seem to be pushing against the Electoral College rigging effort. The “Red State model” is likely to take hold in only a few states — and may provoke a backlash. The larger lesson may be the one Cantor offered: Republicans are slowly realizing that the nation’s priorities are not the GOP’s traditional priorities. If Republicans really do start asking better questions, they will come up with better — and less extreme — answers.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is [email protected] (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

graphic via shutterstock.com

Author: E.J. DIONNE, JR., WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST

  • sheknows

    looks like there are 3 different elements working within the Republican party. 1. Those who see what the Reps are doing/have done and don’t like it. They seriously would like to bring reform to the Republican party. 2. Those who pay lip service to a more progressive way of thinking but just reword the same old rhetoric to make it sound like change. 3. Those who radically oppose any change and will do anything they can to regain power up to and including redistricting the electoral college, Democracy be damned.
    The first group is a tiny minority of voices in a sea of loud noise.
    Ever since the lost election, the constant talk is about whether or not the Republicans can rebrand, restart, clean house,wake up, get with the program etc.
    All of this is now an issue because the Republicans have made some teeny concessions and NOT done what they are famous for doing…obstructing at every turn. Everyone thinks they are “changing” and becoming more “progressive” in their thinking finally. I don’t believe it. I don’t see it. I hear a few voices crying in the wilderness, but they are definetely not representative of the party.
    We will be seeing alot of ploys to change the IMAGE of the party over the next 4 years, but very little to change the thinking I’m afraid.

  • ShannonLeee

    nothing like shining a turd.

  • slamfu

    “Congress has already passed a substantial tax increase”

    I find this statement laughable, and a perfect example of how the GOP has done an amazing job of controlling the debate on taxes. That this pittance of a tax increase was seen as a major concession by the GOP means that they have already won the issue, even when they “lose”. Simply put, the most important means of controlling the flow of money in the economy, and making sure it doesn’t all just pool at the top, and disappear from the middle class, is progressive taxation. When you forgoe that, as we have since the Bush tax cuts were implemented, what you get is exactly what has happened in the last 12 years. High income growth at the very top, and stagnant or negative growth for everyone else. And the “everyone else” is who keeps the economy going by buying stuff. Which in turn hurts the top, eventually.

    We went thru this before. Today’s GOP has been instrumental in overturning the major policies implemented in the New Deal to create a stable economy and keep income disparity to a minimum. It is happening now EXACTLY as it did in the 1920′s. We need to go back to what worked for decades. We do not need to reinvent the wheel here folks.