Here’s why Republican rebranding can’t work just yet: If you run a law firm, and you want to rebrand as an agribusiness company, you can’t just change your messaging. Your group of lawyers has to change its position and identity — you have to change what you do and who you actually are. It’s the same problem for Republicans.
As I’ve written before, Republicans aren’t changing what they do, i.e. their policy. It’s evident from House Republicans’ recent votes to repeal Obamacare (again) and to deprive people of their reproductive rights (again). And it’s evident in the recent rebranding report produced by College Republicans that seems to miss the point on, among other things, immigration:
[T]he focus group participants emphasize that they are sympathetic to ‘illegal‘ immigrants: “But sometimes,” one says, “it’s not really their fault.” Another whose parents immigrated legally – “and now have nothing to retire on” – notes that she understands why others wouldn’t: “It’s really expensive to do it the right way. And it was just really difficult.”
But the report doesn’t endorse changing GOP policy to, you know, make it easier for illegal immigrants to participate in the American dream or even to make it easier to immigrate. No, the ultimate suggestion:
“It is important for the Republican party to be clear about the difference between legal and illegal immigrants.”
As if that were the problem? Those folks in the focus groups seem to understand what the difference is – indeed, seem to understand it better than most Republicans.
And perhaps even more damaging than not changing what they do, Republicans aren’t changing who they are. It’s hard to change a brand when there’s no central control over the brand to begin with. The only way, I believe, for the brand to change is either for a strong leader (presidential candidate) to arise who can centralize control a bit more, or for the change to come from the grassroots up.
And we just saw an incident that proves the grassroots aren’t going to be leading the charge on changing Republicans’ brand anytime soon — because the Republican grassroots is the embodiment of that shitty brand. Here’s how an hispanic outreach event went for Republicans the other day:
GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington … had gathered faith-based leaders of the Latino community on Capitol Hill to, she said, talk about “our shared goals for America” with a half-dozen of her colleagues as part of a larger outreach effort.
At one point, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., addressed Hispanic media outlets in Spanish — only to get heckled.
“If they all learned English …” someone shouted from the sidelines, then trailed off, as a woman arrived wielding a sign that read, “Do not reward criminals, no amnesty for illegal aliens!!!”
The speakers sought to brush it off.
“I want to make a call for unity,” said Becky Keenan, a pastor with the Gulf Meadows Church of Houston, Texas, “a call for a tone that is civil, where we can discuss issues, see where we can compromise.”
Across the East Front lawn, a woman was shouting wildly into a much louder microphone, almost drowning out Keenan. Protesters wore T-shirts emblazoned with American flags and tea party slogans, and they waved homemade signs that read, “John Boehner: no amnesty, get a backbone,” “Boehner: go home,” “exporting illegals = importing jobs for Americans, stop socialism,” and “if we lose rule of law we become Mexico.”
So, in sum: Leadership recognizes the party is at risk of looking like it doesn’t care about hispanic people and may even be racist. They try a rudimentary effort to begin correcting it — and instantly get shouted down by racist members of the grassroots. It’s a microcosm for the whole rebranding effort.
Republicans can tell they need to change their shitty brand, but they won’t be able to because they can’t change what they do or who they are. Some Republicans are trying to do both, by appealing to diversity and thereby increasing the diversity of their membership. But clients that hired you to write their contracts and litigate their cases probably aren’t going to want to start paying you for seeds and fertilizer any more than changing your brand message will make your lawyers into soil scientists — or any more than the racists who make up the current Republican Party are going to allow the GOP brand to become more tolerant.