The New York Times Magazine article “Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?” answers its own question in the content. No. Not in its present form. It appears that – in spite of its successes in Alabama – the national Republican Party is in the same fix as the Alabama Democratic Party of 2010:
- No message that resonates with the majority of voters.
- No accomplishments to brag about.
- No plan for the future.
- No sense among the party leadership that any of that is a problem.
In 2010, the Alabama GOP seized control of pretty much all state government. It ran a winning campaign that correctly pointed out that the Legislature had been controlled by Democrats for 100+ years, but what had the state gotten out of it? Sadly, the ADP had no coherent answer!
Granted, 2010 was a GOP wave election nationwide, but even without that wind at their backs, the Alabama Republicans would probably have won. The Democratic leaders in the legislature were, by and large, mainly concerned with protecting both the status quo and their own prerogatives. (Sadly, the GOP supermajority is emulating them on a grand scale, with a heaping helping of hubris thrown in, but that's another blog post.)
After all, look at the campaign – or non-campaign – and candidates that the ADP offered. Lobbyists, bingo lawyers, and political retreads of every make and model. There was no unified message or messaging, no attempt to engage the grassroots, what appeared to be a concerted effort by some candidates to turn off base Democratic voters, and almost no effort at small-donor fundraising. This last really hurt the party since AEA blew through a lot of money defeating Republican Bradley Bryne in the Republican primary. Even a rather shadowy network of PACs wasn't enough to help Democrats win.
Instead of embracing a new generation of leaders, the Old Guard hung on until the very last gasp, relying on the same political consultants who in turn used the same strategies and tactics that the party had used to win in previous decades, but were woefully inadequate for the 21st Century. The party even changed its bylaws in August 2010 to re-elect the current Executive Board instead of waiting until January – after the election, when restive rank & file Democrats might be eager for a change.
Fortunately, the ADP now has new leadership that embraces change, looks to the future, and is working to rebuild.
The national Republican Party? Not so much. Details below the fold…
Let's look at how the situations are similar:
Reliance on a shrinking pool of voters & reluctance to reach out to new ones:
From the NYT article…
“It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”
During one of the postelection panels, Anderson heard a journalist talk about his interviews with Romney staff members who had hoped to build a winning coalition of white voters. “That just stunned me,” she told me one afternoon over coffee. “I thought: Did you not see the census? Because there was one! And it had some pretty big news — like that America’s biggest growing population is the Latino community! Surprise, surprise! How have we not grasped that this is going to be really important?”
Did the ADP in 2010 really expect to attract voters with a statewide slate of candidates that included Judge Roy Moore's friend and big-time supporter?
Resistance to sharing power and decision-making authority with those outside the “inner circle.”
Harris suffers no illusions that the Roves of his party will turn over the keys to young techies like him. “We’re the second rung,” he told me. “The first tier isn’t going away for another 20 years.”
It is Harris’s last point — that the G.O.P. is stuck with its current leadership for the next decade or more — that incites particular angst in young Republicans. With palpable envy, they describe the forward-leaning impulses of the Obama campaign: Axelrod’s tweeting endlessly; the deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter’s becoming a YouTube dynamo with her sassy Web rebuttals to the Romney campaign; Jim Messina’s traveling westward to receive wisdom from Eric Schmidt, Steve Jobs and Steven Spielberg.
The SDEC Executive Board. Enough said.
Reliance on the same group of advisers and consultants -even those who are either ignorant of or resistant to new methods and technologies.
A few days after the Moffatt gathering, the R.N.C.’s chairman, Reince Priebus, announced that the committee would conduct a wide-ranging investigation — called the Growth and Opportunity Project — into the ways the party was going astray. To guide the investigation were familiar names, like the former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, the longtime Florida operative Sally Bradshaw and the R.N.C. veteran Henry Barbour. Erik Telford, the 28-year-old founder of the RightOnline bloggers’ convention, told me that he found himself wondering aloud: “Do you want an aggressive investigation from people who’ve built their careers on asking skeptical questions? Or do you want a report from people who are symptomatic of what’s gone wrong?”
Erik Telford explained it this way: “I think there’s a very incestuous community of consultants who profit off certain tactics, and that creates bias and inhibits innovation.” Telford was suggesting that many of the party leaders, like Karl Rove and his American Crossroads super PAC, saw no financial advantage to bringing in avant-garde digital specialists, the types who were embraced by the Obama operation. For that matter, Zac Moffatt and his firm, Targeted Victory, enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the G.O.P.’s digital business during the lackluster 2012 cycle, which has made Moffatt an irresistible symbol for all that’s clubby and backward-thinking about the party.
ahem…. Matrix, anyone?
Voters see the party as out-of-step and even the “party of the past.”
Several G.O.P. digital specialists told me that, in addition, they found it difficult to recruit talent because of the values espoused by the party. “I know a lot of people who do technology for a living,” Turk said. “And almost universally, there’s a libertarian streak that runs through them — information should be free, do your own thing and leave me alone, that sort of mind-set. That’s very much what the Internet is. And almost to a person that I’ve talked to, they say, ‘Yeah, I would probably vote for Republicans, but I can’t get past the gay-marriage ban, the abortion stance, all of these social causes.’ Almost universally, they see a future where you have more options, not less. So questions about whether you can be married to the person you want to be married to just flies in the face of the future. They don’t want to be part of an organization that puts them squarely on the wrong side of history.”
It's not just voters: it's hard to attract candidates to run in a party that seems closed and resistant to change. Just ask ADP Chair Mark Kennedy how difficult (almost impossible) it was to recruit candidates for 2012. After decades of the party using the candidates as cash cows instead of helping them get elected, qualified people were reluctant to put themselves forward.
And most chillling for the GOP was this series of focus group sessions with people that the GOP consultant had pegged as “possible” Republican voters:
About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”
“Young people,” one woman called out.
“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.” “Change.” “Open-minded.” “Spending.” “Handouts.” “Green.” “More science-based.”
When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.” “Old.” “Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”
The article itself focuses on younger techie people who identify as Republicans and who want to drag the party into the 21st century. Heck, I bet they'd even settle for the last half of the 20th century!
But I think they're making a critical error. They think the problem is the marketing, not the message and that if the party can just tone down the more extreme elements that it will attract younger voters, Latinos, and others.
In the previous few days, the pollster interviewed Latino voters in San Diego and young entrepreneurs in Orlando. The findings were virtually unanimous. No one could understand the G.O.P.’s hot-blooded opposition to gay marriage or its perceived affinity for invading foreign countries. Every group believed that the first place to cut spending was the defense budget. During the whiteboard drill, every focus group described Democrats as “open-minded” and Republicans as “rigid.”
“There is a brand,” the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. “And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.”
It's not a marketing or branding problem, hon! It's what the party stands for and the candidates it presents to the country: Mitt (47%) Romney, Todd (legitimate rape) Akin, and even Mary Sue (a baby is an organ) McClurkin – just to name a few.
Look at the Alabama Republicans drunk on “sour grape wine” and the GOP's “We Dare to Defend Our Rights” agenda. Its focus on “God, Guns, and Girl Parts” is a mirror image of the most extreme elements of the national Republican Party/TEA Party. And, unlike many parts of the Alabama electorate, almost none of that plays well in national elections or any races outside the most gerrymandered districts.
The Alabama Republicans' insistence on elevating corruption to an art form (see Mike Hubbard, SB122, utility rates, and mysterious personnel policies) is breathtaking and makes us nostalgic for the Democratic variety (see phone deregulation, resistance to anti-cockfighting laws, Lowell Barron's traffic tickets, and free football tickets). All that seems downright tame compared to the GOP antics.
The Alabama Democratic Party of old learned the lesson of governance and campaigns based on arrogance. It's a curriculum that both the state and national Republican Party leaders would be wise to heed.
But the very nature of power-drunk hubris means they won't – not without a little help from voters.