The Right Opinion

Two Cheers for Rebranding

By Jonah Goldberg · Feb. 8, 2013

Ever since Mitt Romney lost the presidential election, there's been a lot of talk about how the Republican Party needs to “rebrand” itself.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants, among other things, for the GOP to stop being “the stupid party.” Rep. Paul Ryan has concluded that the watchword for the Republican Party needs to be “prudence.” Sen. Marco Rubio is the front man for the most tangible aspect of the rebranding effort: getting on the right side of the immigration issue. In the process, he's become something of the de facto point person for the party.

The latest entrant into this effort: House Majority leader Eric Cantor. On Tuesday, Cantor gave a well-received speech at the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a fellow), titled “Making Life Work.” In it, Cantor argued for utterly reasonable conservative solutions that would improve the plight of the working poor and the middle class.

It's all good stuff from a great field. Indeed, while calling them the “fantastic four” might seem hyperbolic – and unfair to a few other politicians left out of the mix – Rubio, Ryan, Jindal and Cantor are a pretty good counterargument to those who think the Republican Party is doomed. Excellent politicians all, three out of four are minorities: a Hispanic, an Indian-American, and a Jew – which sounds like they should be walking into a bar for a joke. The fourth, the Catholic Ryan, routinely wins a working-class district that votes Democratic in presidential elections.

I should note that lately I've written favorably about this rebranding stuff as well. In a nutshell, I've been arguing that the GOP's problems don't stem from a lack of principle, but from a lack of persuasiveness.

My point was not – and is not – that the GOP should abandon its commitment to core conservative principles. If you can't get the swing voters to vote for the existing level of conservatism the GOP is offering, it seems odd to argue that the GOP needs to peddle an even more strident form of conservatism (even if that purer conservatism would yield better policies). If a potential customer says, “The Chevy Impala is too pricey,” a good salesman doesn't immediately respond, “OK, can I interest you in a Bentley?”

All that said, I think the push to rebrand the GOP has its own pitfalls.

For starters, “prudence” and “don't be stupid,” while excellent prescriptions for how to behave, are not, in themselves, great rallying cries. If you don't believe me, try to get a crowd of the faithful to start chanting “Pru-dence! Pru-dence!” or “We're Not Stupid! We're Not Stupid!”

While this may seem obvious, the fact is that one GOP's worst tics is its habit of reading its stage directions out loud. For instance, Republicans often talk about how they're not going to “go negative.” George H.W. Bush had such contempt for Bill Clinton's gift for wholesale empathy, he felt the need to proclaim, “Message: I care.”

Obviously, Republicans should care about what is best for the country and the voters – and they should demonstrate that concern – but they will never beat liberals at the game of whose heart bleeds the most. As liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne observes, Cantor's rebranding maneuvers the GOP into a contest on Democratic turf: who cares more about workers, the poor, immigrants, etc. As Dionne notes, that's why Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer immediately praised Cantor's remarks.

The reason that game is so perilous for conservatives is not that liberals necessarily care more than conservatives but that they are always willing and eager to prove their concern by cutting a check, even when all we have in the checking account is IOUs and cash on loan from China. Moreover, they are perfectly happy and eager to say that anyone who opposes more check-kiting is greedy or selfish, even if what Democrats are doing is making the problem they seek to solve worse. All too often, liberals act as if government has a monopoly on compassion.

“There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” Children often think their parents are being mean when they tell their kids to do their homework. That doesn't make the parents mean, it makes them responsible. Eventually, the lessons of life persuade children their parents were right all along.

Voters aren't children, but too many of them have the childish notion that the best policies are those that pander to their immediate desires. The challenge for the GOP is to persuade them to put away childish things.

© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


wjm in Colorado said:

What good is rebranding if you can't get the message to the useful idiots? Until we can counter the ministry of propoganda and the indocrination, there is no hope of success. If the Conservatives want to succeed, they need to start making inroads in education and the media.

Friday, February 8, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Joe in Texas said:

I've always thought the GOP should be the Dems at their own game. Not by promising hand outs, but by using real people as props.

"Here are John and Jane Doe. He's an electrician and she's a teacher in Tulsa, OK. This is what Obamacare and the tax code is doing to them and their 3 kids."

Everyone knows liberalism hurts the middle class. Let's show it.

Friday, February 8, 2013 at 1:50 PM

Ted R. Weiland in Nebraska said:

Rebranding is not the answer. The Republican Party, I'm sorry, needs to be castrated.

Whereas Communism lives under the new name Democracy, liberalism lives under the new name Republicanism. The sad fact is, Democrats and Republicans are not polar opposites; there is little significant difference between them anymore. What represented the Democrats ten years ago, represents the Republicans today.

Anything left of Yahweh's morality (as codified in His commandments, statutes, and judgments) is left, liberal, and ungodly. When today's politicians (Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, etc.), churches, preachers, and most people claiming to be Christians are measured against this standard (the only standard by which all things must be ethically judged), they are found to be merely liberal or conservative leftists. If the Republicans or any party or any group, regardless what they want to call themselves, are going to ever save America from the precipice upon which she teeters, it will only occur by returning to this standard.

For more, see blog article "American Exceptionalism" at

Also "10 'Radical' Recommendations."

Friday, February 8, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Mary Holman in Lexington, KY replied:

I totally agree with Brother Weiland's assessment. It seems to me that an applicable Scripture might be Hosea 4:6 "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 6:14 PM

Roger Mitchell in Montana said:

Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Nazis, Greens, Constitutionalists, Libertarians? These are all part and parcel of the problem, because every one of these political views simply wants to swap the government we have now for one of their own making. I would back the Constitutionalists against the Republicans and would support the Libertarians even further, but ultimately it boils down to one thing--self control.

Self control is the base and foundation of individual government. Every government on earth is built from individuals joining together. America's problems don't stem from the fact that the liberal, socialist Democrats seem to have the upper hand or that government has gotten too large. It is this way because, at the base level, average Americans have either forgotten how to exercise self control or have never learned to.

When a large majority of persons in any society are greedy, lustful, corrupt, selfish, ungodly, liars, thieves, etc., then that society is going to be exactly the same way. Because power devolves to the ones who will do whatever it takes, the worst members of that society will rise to the top. This is what we are seeing today.

Changing the form of government will not change the heart of the individual person, but it is the heart which needs to be changed. This can only come from God, obedience to His Law, and surrender to His Word, Jesus Christ. It is only through individual transformation of the heart that society is transformed for the better.

Rebranding politics is like slapping a bandage on a hemorrhaging wound. No matter how many times it is swapped for a fresh one, the victim is going to die.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 11:44 AM