Will A New Brand Bring Old Problems?

For years now, the Republican brand has been a terror on electoral politics; Karl Rove mastered the strategy of 50+1% politics while the Democrats stood around like the Washington Senators to the GOP Globetrotters. In any given election, the Republicans seemed to know exactly the right hot button issue to go after, while Democrats just watched as advantage after advantage that should have tilted the race in their direction were rendered useless.

The flip side to this, though, is that once you’ve stayed in power for a long enough time, eventually you have to be responsible for how the government is run.

This is the real problem that the GOP faces right now. Image, messaging, and branding are, of course, suffering right now, but I believe that these are at best symptoms of the greater illness as opposed to diseases of their very own.

To his credit, Governor Schwarzenegger’s attempts to help McCain rebrand himself carry perhaps a little bit more substance than calls for rebranding by other conservative navel gazers. Break from the old party line on climate change and illegal immigration, for instance, suggests Schwarzenegger, but while these do point to substative shifts in Republican dogma, they still don’t go to the heart of the issue.

Or, more accurately, the issues that Americans care the most about.

When push comes to shove, Schwarzenegger seems to hold the party line on the economy and on Iraq, though not in so many words. When all is said and done, the California Governor’s advice is not far removed from Karl Rove’s advice from last week; take the same policies, polish them up real nice, and try to sell them again to the American public.

Which will make the most difficult task faced by McCain in 2008 also the most important one–distancing himself from Bush.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s success stems in part from the fact that he has eluded being pinned down as a Bush-style Republican. But in an election that will be defined by the two issues that Bush is seen as being the most responsible for, and in which McCain holds essentially the same views as Bush, can McCain really manage to get away from Bush?

Making matters worse is the fact that, in an attempt to consolidate the base, McCain has flip-flopped in the direction of Bush on a number of issues including tax cuts and torture. Even McCain’s newfound ability to embrace leaders of the Religious Right runs contrary to his Maverick persona of 2000 that rejected such personalities and their divisive politics.

To some, it may seem as though McCain had sold his soul to the Devil to have a run at the White House.

But Schwarzenegger offers broader, and in my mind, sounder advice. At least on the surface. He suggests that the pary as a whole needs to recapture the center, and wrest from the hard right its grip on GOP dogma. This would seem to be solid advice; the hold that the far right has had on the party could last only so long, and while it may not provide immediate returns in electorial success, I must admit that shifting towards the center will be healthier for the Republicans overall.

Yet this brings about an interesting question. Progressives and liberals have lamented that Democrats don’t truly represent them. Unlike Republicans who have spent the better part of recent decades catering to their base, Democrats ultimately seem to have acquired their base by default–progressives and liberals voting and working for Democrats not because they are particularly liberal, but because they aren’t Republicans.

The curious thing about Democratic politics lately, though, is that when election time comes around, Democrats have an uncanny habit of running as Republican Lite.

While this has become standard operating procedure on many levels, this tactic seems to ignore one glaring logical flaw; if someone has to choose between two Republicans, they’re going to pick the Republican.

Which brings me back to Schwarzenegger’s advice. If his idea is to move to the center, that puts the party precariously close to a position analogous to where Democrats have been for years. As we’re already seeing, running as a Republican comes with certain risks these days, but if the answer Republicans are looking for is to run as Democrat Lite, doesn’t that put them in a similar, analogous logic?

If voters are given a choice between Democrat, and Democrat Lite, won’t they choose the Democrat?

Schwarzenegger’s very gubernatorial status would seem to suggest otherwise, but for now Schwarzenegger is a black sheep in a party full of white wool. Also, let’s not forget that he took over from a Democratic governor who was so unpopular he was ousted from office early. Also, California doesn’t operate legislatively as others do, which creates a slightly different landscape compared to many other states in the union.

Also, Californians love their ex-actors turned political wannabes.

Thus, the Governator appears to have the life saving elixir the GOP needs most, but it’s also quite possible that it’s nothing more than snake oil that only works in the Sunshine State, and will only doom Republicans to a curse Democrats have grown quite accustomed to everywhere else.

(edited by DrGail)

One Response to “Will A New Brand Bring Old Problems?”

  1. Les Muller says:

    Gov. Schwarzenegger will go down in history as an even worse govenor than Gray Davis. Revenues in CA have increased 24% since he was elected, spending has gone up 43%. he borrowed 15 billion to make ends meet during his first term and still faces a 17 billion deficit. and now he wants to issue 30 bonds year against future lottery revenues. If the state is in chapter 7 bankruptcy by the end of his second term it will be shortly after.

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