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December 20, 2014

The GOP: A Party Increasingly at Odds With Itself

“I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat,” humorist Will Rogers said many years ago. But if Rogers were alive today, he’d undoubtedly see his party as a model of organization and unity when compared to the GOP.

The Republican Party continues to fracture more seriously than I expected following last year’s re-election of President Barack Obama.

Instead of uniting the GOP’s various constituencies against the president’s agenda, Obama’s re-election seems to have encouraged Republicans to spend much of their time harping on their internal disagreements and fighting over how the party should be positioned for 2016 and beyond.

Everyone — from party insiders to journalists to those at the grass roots — has noticed the GOP’s problems, and everyone has solutions, from revising party positions on immigration and same-sex marriage to moving away from international commitments to electing more conservatives who will refuse to compromise on conservative principles.

Earlier this week, the Republican National Committee entered the discussion with a lengthy report that dealt with everything from message to campaign mechanics and the presidential nominating process.

While many of the suggestions contained in the Growth & Opportunity Project report would improve the party’s prospects, the nature of our political system makes it difficult for the RNC to remake the party, as former RNC Chairman Ray Bliss did in the mid-1960s, after Barry Goldwater’s defeat.

The RNC can improve its prospects by reaching out to Hispanics, Asian-Americans and younger voters. It can increase its relevance by emphasizing voter registration, micro-targeting and data collection, and by trying to woo college students and those becoming U.S. citizens. And it can promote young women and people of color to change the perception of the Republican Party primarily as the party of old white guys.

But while the report proposes a big tent strategy, others in the party — Rush Limbaugh, the Club for Growth, Sean Hannity, Tea Party Express and Jim DeMint — have a different agenda. Bliss did not have to deal with similar non-party groups 50 years ago, and their existence today undercuts the authority of the national party.

Allies of Ron Paul and “movement conservatives” have already criticized the RNC report, portraying it as little more than the establishment’s attempt to remake the party in the image of the Democratic Party.

Because the RNC cannot dictate message or mechanics the way it once could, it is unclear how much impact the Growth & Opportunity Project report will have. That doesn’t mean that all of the report’s proposals will be ignored or that the national party is powerless. But it does cast doubt on whether the report’s call for a big tent party will be respected.

But if Republicans have a long-term problem that requires major changes in message and organization, the party has equally big near-term problems.

I recently asked a smart veteran Republican pollster what his party could do to turn things around in the near future. His response what refreshingly honest: Nothing. The Republican brand will improve, he continued, only when the president screws up.

Passing an immigration bill might remove an issue that has made it difficult for Republicans to talk with Hispanics about other issues, but it won’t immediately make those voters more inclined to see themselves as Republicans, or to appreciate the ways in which the GOP’s views on a range of issues reflects their own values, priorities and views.

Since the GOP brand is damaged, it has little credibility with certain voters. And because politics is invariably in the eye of the beholder, voters who don’t even consider listening to the GOP will have to become receptive to Republican arguments before they are willing to consider voting for Republican candidates.

But that isn’t likely to happen until those voters grow disillusioned with the Democrats. That disillusionment could come next week, next year or in 10 years, depending on events and circumstances. But voters won’t listen to the recalibrated Republican message — or even new GOP messengers — until they are looking for something new.

With Republicans increasingly split on policy and strategy — hardly a recipe for political success in 2014 or 2016 — GOP grass-roots activists, party leaders and “outside” groups still need to find a compelling case for swing voters and weak Democrats to reassess their assumptions about the two parties. For now, only the president and congressional Democrats can give them that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Moshe-Chodesh/100000502705844 Moshe Chodesh

    Rothenberg, spot on as usual.

    • Stuart Rothenberg

      Well, thank you. I appreciate the kind words.

  • ID-2

    I feel like this is the same kind of analysis made in 2005 and two years later Dems took control of Congress and two years after that the White House. Until Obama even Democrats were divided. The media loves a story and the only thing better than a winner in politics is a divided loser.

  • Anil Petra

    the presumption of democrats proclaiming ‘autopsy’ and republicans ‘at odds’.

    since 2000, republicans have held the presidency, house and senate simultaneously for three election cycles. the democrats only one.

    since 1994, republicans held the house for twelve consecutive years, the democrats just four, followed by four more republican years.

    after just two years of barack’s progressive agenda and Obamacare, the people elected a house republican majority that democrats have been unable to reclaim, bringing a full halt to the party’s agenda.

    republicans seem well poised to retain the house and recapture the senate in 2014, with democrats particularly vulnerable after obamacare badly rocks the american economy with full implementation 1/2014.

    democrats won the presidency on a wave of popularity for the first black president, but not his agenda; and have won the senate on social not economic issues.

    republicans have some work to do. but their planning is for the dismemberment of the democratic party, not managing their own decline.

    as far as demographics are concerned, note that democrats held a lock on the house and senate from 1947-1994. the meme that republicans represent the ‘old white america’ is profoundly rejected by this simple evidence.

    • USMCJock

      “since 2000, republicans have held the presidency, house and senate
      simultaneously for three election cycles. the democrats only one”

      >>> Then republicans have to assume a lot of the problems during this time. You can’t have it both ways. And the wars that go with it. And the tax cuts that helped crush the economy that pissed off Americans.

      “since 1994, republicans held the house for twelve consecutive years, the
      democrats just four, followed by four more republican years”

      >>> and what monumental achievements legislatively occurred? Nothing to write home about. Plus, the GOP had Bush I getting beaten; in ONE term. Again, when you trumpet the horn of the GOP during those years, you have to take the bad with it.

      ‘after just two years of barack’s progressive agenda and Obamacare, the
      people elected a house republican majority that democrats have been
      unable to reclaim, bringing a full halt to the party’s agenda”

      >>> It never ceases to amaze me. Republicans like you will never educate yourself. Democrats won 1.7 million more seats in the gerrymandered districts. Are you even familiar with the term gerrymandering? Your comment would suggest you don’t understand that term. You did not mention any of this in your comment.

      “democrats won the presidency on a wave of popularity for the first black
      president, but not his agenda; and have won the senate on social not
      economic issues”

      >>> Again, wrong. Democrats turned out as a rebuke of George Bush and his anti-American policies; his massive spending; his tax cuts for the rich and his two unpaid for, unprovoked wars. You did not mention any of this in your comment.

      “as far as demographics are concerned, note that democrats held a lock on
      the house and senate from 1947-1994. the meme that republicans
      represent the ‘old white america’ is profoundly rejected by this simple
      evidence.”

      >>> I have only one thing to say about this: The amount of old, white, angry sure-fire republican whites, especially males, are dying off at a 4%-6% clip each 4 years. That makes your entire comment completely irrelevant, because between 1947-1994 (and even today), the GOP had better numbers with their voting base. It’s permanently declining…meaning they won’t get these number to increase. BIG problem. The link below shows how very, very, VERY bad things are for the GOP going forward into the future.

      http://news.yahoo.com/predict-presidential-elections-by-demographic-interactive-widget-225441066.htm

  • iopiopiop

    I actually agree with this analysis but in a different way. First, I think signing on to losers like we did in the housing bubble only allows the democrats to escape the noose when their policies fail. The Republicans need to have FAITH that big government and agreeing with other liberal policies is not how to rebuild the brand. What happens is the public becomes disenchanted and then there is no alternative in the waiting. Even Rush has said, “Events will have to happen to change minds” so making compromises in our core beliefs will only do a more permanent damage.

  • USMCJock

    I think Stu forgets one critical, critical point. The national demographics are shifting away from the GOP. So by the time “the Democrats screw up”, it may be too late. Course, they may never screw up, but that’s not likely. In any event, the GOP doesn’t have time on it’s side. That’s the 800 lb. gorilla in the room.

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