Ted Cruz: Will He Damage GOP Rebranding?

There’s a lot of talk in many informed political circles about the Republican Party’s “rebranding” effort — a way to recreate its “high concept” image among the non-choir members who voted against it. But Steve Kronacki argues that Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is increasingly being liked to the late and unlamented (among the majority of Americans) Sen. Joseph McCarthy and who is doubling down when he’s accused of using McCarthy style smear tactics, is an obstacle to the rebranding.

What makes Cruz and Cruz-ism a particular problem for his party is the demographic conundrum Republicans now face. Obama’s reelection (and Democrats’ unexpected gains in the Senate) was testament to the rising clout of the “coalition of the ascendant” – African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women (particularly single women), Millennials. As Joan Walsh pointed out last week, Cruz’s Cuban-American background by itself won’t improve his or his party’s standing with Hispanics or other minorities. Instead, he’s appealing to the aging, overwhelmingly white core of the Republican base – voters whose grievances against the government in the 1970s and 1980s turned them against the Democratic Party and attracted them to Ronald Reagan and his ideological descendants.

So Cruz is now positioned as a major obstacle to the ideological modernization that the Republican Party is desperately in need of. If his brand of conservatism is treated as the gold standard of purity by the conservative media and conservative activists, Republican leaders will have a hard time moving the party away from its Obama-era orthodoxy. This could affect the calculations of Republican office-holders in the coming months, as Congress tackles immigration, guns and other issues on which the GOP is out of step with mainstream opinion. It could also lead to more trouble for the party in Senate races next year. In some states, like Cruz’s Texas, it really doesn’t matter whom the GOP nominates; the party will win anyway. But in other states, the nomination of a Cruz-like candidate can be an act of electoral suicide.

When firebrands like McCarthy and Helms were on the scene, the Republican Party was more geographically and ideologically diverse. In McCarthy’s time, for instance, liberal Republicans from the Northeast loomed large in the party – a key reason why Dwight Eisenhower, who governed as a moderate, managed to beat back the ultra-conservative Robert Taft in 1952. And through the 1980s, Republican presidential candidates regularly contested and won large industrial states. The political damage that McCarthy and Helms did to their party was limited.

But the GOP’s appeal has narrowed in the last decade or two. That doesn’t mean the party is doomed, but it does need a reboot – a reboot that’s difficult to envision as long as the party’s base continues to celebrate behavior like Cruz’s.

Despite talk about rebranding, if you follow politics you can’t help but conclude that the GOP is still being pulled towards presenting the public face of a party that speaks to Tea Party members, members of the talk radio political culture, and those that market political paranoia.

Not a good sign — if rebranding is in deed what the GOP needs to win national elections as the Democratic Party coalition not only expands, but solidifies.

  

11 Comments

  1. “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

    Cruz is on a superior moral search and justification for the inflated egotistical.

    Different branding? Might be same brand dipped in Texas politics…

  2. Cruz is more of what the GOP doesn’t need and is not a good sign. The inmates are still in control of the asylum. They are quickly becoming a regional party only capable of winning elections in the old confederate states and not much else. Hard to take the rebranding talk seriously at this point. It may take a couple of more election cycles before they get real. There are still people saying the problem in 2012 was just that they weren’t conservative enough and they need to move even further right. Complete lunacy but this is what a lot of them think.

  3. I really hope that someday in the near future, Texas will come back from the “fringe wilderness.” As a native Texan (who left the state for school a dozen years ago), I remember growing up and seeing people (and pols) from opposite sides come together for the common good of the state. State pride, second to none by a long shot, was our bond. Like a huge family, we could have disagreements between ourselves and talk some serious smack, but the moment someone from outside the state said something we united in defense.

    Today, because of the conservative lean of my beloved state, we get all these crazy carpetbaggers descending on us (Nugent, Beck, Cruz, Jeffries, et al) who’ve unleashed political havoc from within. This, in turn, has caused an erosion of common decency within my home state and allowed people (who were once quite amiable and conciliatory) to become unhinged in their beliefs, usually due to political self-preservation (think W and Perry). I excluded the Bushes because Bush 41 was a decent Republican, that while I disagreed with many of his positions, could respect him for them because of the respect he showed for the political opposition.

    With the advent of the politically-slanted websites and a 24-hour Republican news channel, I am not sure Texas will ever be able to be cured of this right-wing rabidness. I’m not saying I hope it goes blue, much less deep blue. That’s never been Texas and never will be. However, I do hope over the next decade that it can leave behind it’s deep red mentality and become much more purple, if not violet. After all, even though much was made about the number of people who signed a “We the People” website petition for Texas secession, that represented less than 4% of the total vote that President Obama received in the state. See? Progress!

  4. Back when I used to frequent other political blogs I would occasionally encounter someone defending Joe McCarthy. Hard to believe I know, but it just goes to show there will always be a few people who are beyond salvage. The trick is to keep them from infecting the rest of the herd. I pray that sanity will be restored to the GOP one day because we need (at least) two healthy parties.

  5. If most of today’s independents are made up of disaffected moderate Republicans (I’m a liberal independent), why hasn’t anyone (or any group) risen up to create a party for them. As it stands now, I believe self-identified independents is ~40% while self-identified Republicans are in the high-20s. Even the number of self-identified Democrats are outnumbered by independents by at least a 7-8 point margin. Even if all independents aren’t conservative Republicans, I believe the overwhelming majority are disaffected moderates from both parties.

    I bet if you did create a more centrist-style party, you could probably snag a huge percentage of independents and might even peel some self-ID’d Dems and Reps from those parties.

  6. “I bet if you did create a more centrist-style party, you could probably snag a huge percentage of independents and might even peel some self-ID’d Dems and Reps from those parties.”

    I am with you 100%.

    I wonder if the problem along these lines is that moderates and independants are not as activist as left and right ideologues. I don’t mean that in a negative or positive way to ideologues or centrist; rather, an observation. Similar to the observation of I made in a recent article here concerning the compass of pleasure (or displeasure). IOW, human minds are rewarded for working in certain specific ways depending on the individual and their atttenuated dopamine circuit.

    I do think we are approaching an era where we will increasingly see relatively extreme points of view from the left and right voted out of office. There will still be battles for power but pragmatism will be measured by results over rhetoric. I hope I am not part of a minority to looks forward to the day.

  7. I wonder if the problem along these lines is that moderates and independants are not as activist as left and right ideologues.

    I think that’s a huge reason in that the moderate-left and moderate-right, for the most part, are apathetic. They don’t get worked up in the primaries enough to pay attention to whose running. By the time, the candidates are chosen for the general election they see whose running and, if feel inclined to vote, will choose the “lesser of two evils” (holding their noses while they choose one candidate over another). As I read blogs and forums, they are frequently populated by red and blue kool-aid drinkers. There’s just no way you can debate them.

    I do think we are approaching an era where we will increasingly see relatively extreme points of view from the left and right voted out of office.

    Some days I would agree with you and others I wouldn’t. I look at the House of Reps, and while there aren’t near as many “looney lefties” as “rabid righties,” we still have some political bomb throwers (Alan Grayson being the most visible). But, it’s more than that. As long as corporate money is allowed unfettered access to all our politicians, I really have a hard time trusting ANY party to do what’s best for us as a nation. The more political bomb throwing a pol does, the more visible he/she is to the nation, the more campaign donations he/she racks up. Corporations see this and entice he/she to vote on or author bills favorable to that company. Nothing new, of course, except now that corporation can either run ads for that pol or they can create a superPAC and still “not coordinate” with that pol’s re-election committee. So, for that reason it pays to be confrontational and boisterous.

    The other major problem is the level of hostility in campaigns that keeps a lot of moderate candidates from running for office too. When you have people like Michael Goldfarb, Drudge, or Daily Kos run very personal attacks on s candidate’s family or severely edit a quote, I think that turns off some of the brightest people from wanting to run. Right now, most of the time a Democrat gets attacked from one side, the right, while the left attacks the Republican (usually). As you’ve seen, it gets downright brutal. Now, a centrist party candidate would get attacked from both sides: “too right”, “too left”, “too liberal,” “too conservative,” “too wishy-washy”, “make up your mind and stop being bi-political,” etc. I just think both established parties would make it next to impossible for a 3rd party to become as nationally prominent as the D’s and R’s already are. Would I like to see it try to still happen? Yes, but if three parties haven’t been able to co-exist concurrently on a national level in the last 225 years, I doubt we’ll see it in our lifetime.

  8. I wonder if the problem along these lines is that moderates and independants are not as activist as left and right ideologues.

    That is exactly what it is– also almost all of the money comes from the ideologues and not the moderates. They are the ones who will volunteer at election time, and turn out in midterm elections-so the Republican Party is terrified of abandoning them, even as they continue to lose the moderates

  9. I wonder if the problem along these lines is that moderates and independants are not as activist as left and right ideologues.

    As Jim Hightower once said:

    the only thing you find in the middle of the road is stripes and dead armadillos.

  10. Texas should divide itself into two states, one could secede and the other could quit being ashamed.

  11. Texas should divide itself into two states, one could secede and the other could quit being ashamed.

    If my hometown of Houston (Harris County) and Galveston county seceded by themselves, it would be the 30th most populous state and the new Texas would still be 2nd.

    However, as tempting as that sounds, galero, I love my home state as a whole, warts and all. I acknowledge that our state pride is obnoxious to outsiders, it even makes me laugh..I guess it’s something that’s hard to understand if you haven’t been a part of it. So my view is that you can always change more things from the inside than trying to do it from the outside.

    Yes, liberals from Texas may have an unrequited love for our state, but it’s still just as fierce as anyone who was raised there. :)

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