Republicans are "rebranding": round up the usual suspects

You have to love the headline: GOP set to launch rebranding effort

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Coming soon to a battleground state near you: a new effort to revive the image of the Republican Party and to counter President Obama’s characterization of Republicans as “the party of ‘no.'”

CNN has learned that the new initiative, called the National Council for a New America, will be announced Thursday.

It will involve an outreach by an interesting mix of GOP officials, ranging from 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and the younger brother of the man many Republicans blame for the party’s battered brand: former President George W. Bush.

“However, this is not a Republican-only forum,” reads the letter announcing the new effort, a copy of which was obtained by CNN from Republican sources involved in the effort. “While we will be guided by our principles of freedom and security, we will seek to include more than just our ideas.

“This forum will include a wide open policy debate that every American can feel free to participate in,” the announcement letter reads. “We do this not just to offer an alternative point of view or to be disagreeable. Instead, we want to ask the American people what their hopes and dreams are. Since January, the President and the Democratic Majority in Congress have – rightfully so – put forward their plan for the future, now we must listen, learn and lead through an honest, open conversation with the American people that will result in building policy proposals that will yield the best results for our nation’s long-term success.”

“Rebranding” is a term we seem to hear more and more of these days, and as a guy who works in marketing let me say, from the bottom of my heart, how sorry I am. Because verily, “branding” and “rebranding” are much abused terms. Worse, the people doing the abusing are usually industry “professionals” who ought to know better.

Properly understood, a brand is a real, if intangible thing. It lives in the relationship between a product/service/entity and its constituencies and it speaks to the essence of the thing these people are gathered around. Unfortunately, modern-day “branding” all too often puts the cart before the horse. Instead of lasting, credible brands that emerge from the reality of the product and the actual value that customers find in it, we instead lead with the messaging and try to tell people what the value is, irrespective of whether it reflects, even marginally, the reality of the thing being branded.

Remember “compassionate conservatism”? That was a brand, and I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about reality vs. messaging in that case.

At its best, rebranding acknowledges the need for real change. Maybe time has passed the old brand by, or maybe the old product/service/company failed in some way that destroyed trust in the brand. In any case, effective rebranding speaks to the market honestly and with humility, saying “we’re going to do things differently from now on and we invite you to be a part of it with us.”

At its worst it, changes the logo and name and carries on its merry way. As my colleague Chris Mackowski noted, “new lipstick, same pig.”

In any case, much can be learned from studying the people involved. So let’s have a look at the new faces, the change agents, driving the dawn of a new day in the Republican party:

  • John McCain
  • Jeb Bush
  • Haley Barbour
  • Bobby Jindal
  • Mitt Romney
  • John Boehner
  • Eric Cantor
  • Mike Pence
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Jon Kyl
  • Lamar Alexander

Errrm, meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

So, how optimistic should we be about the prospects for change here? We can ask ourselves a couple of basic questions, I suppose.

  • Have these people, since the inauguration of Barack Obama, acted in ways that suggest new directions and vision, or have they dug in their heels and acted precisely as the past 30 years have taught us to expect Republican leaders to act?
  • Given what we know of these men, is it more plausible to believe that they’re genuinely interested in changing the party’s reality or that they’re more interested in changing the party’s image?
  • Do they want a different and better reality for all Americans or do they want Americans to continue doing their part to assure the continuation of the same power elite-driven hegemony that brought us to our current state?

We’ll know the GOP has really “rebranded” when we see action demonstrating that there’s been a fundamental shift in the party’s values. Show, boys, don’t tell.

Until then all we got is a press event. Pardon me while I go round up the usual suspects.


UPDATE: Apparently Sarah Palin was invited to join the dog/pony show but never responded.


4 replies »

  1. Notice the omission of Olympia Snowe. Could it be her expressed thoughts this week in a NYT OpEd piece in which she calls them out?

    I have said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates.

    There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party.

    We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few are worthy to stand. Rather, we should view an expansion of diversity within the party as a triumph that will broaden our appeal. That is the political road map we must follow to victory.

  2. Heh – the problem is expanding that diversity when so much of the party’s base and values are quite explicitly opposed to diversity. It’s kind of an Oldsmobile problem. Your customers are dying out. So how do you appeal to the younger customers you need to survive without completely abandoning the very thing that makes you an Oldsmobile?

    I know the GOP ain’t dead and not by a long shot. But there are significant macrotrends at work in America – rural -> urban, for instance, and the Millennial generation’s abject refusal to discriminate on race or sexuality – and these things suggest that if the GOP is to be around in a generation (and if it is to be more relevant than the Natural Law Party), the main thing it needs to do is stop being Republican.

    Nifty trick, that, and I’m glad I’m not a GOP strategist right about now…

  3. Yep. That pretty much says it all. The GOP will change, of course. It has to in order to survive. These aren’t the Grangers or Mugwumps (though they sometimes seem the same). They have too many resources and too many sophisticated political strategists to go down the tubes. But it’s going to be rough for them for a bit until their rank and file figure it out. They may not have seen bottom just yet.

    But, hey, the Dems will screw it up and let them back in the door.

  4. I don’t want to see rebranding, I want to see them break that lockstep they’ve been marching in. They’ve spent the last decade telling us who is or isn’t American, patriotic, telling us who we are and what we stand for rather than asking us and accusing any who dare to think different than them of being the worst possible things.

    When I was a kid back in the late 70s I had the example of a Democratic party too long in power and repubs who stood up and went after Nixon too. Not because it was politically convenient, but because it was the RIGHT THING TO DO and it was a bad precedent to allow abuses of power like that, from any party.

    When I start to see repubs break ranks and do what’s RIGHT even if their party fights them on it, then I’ll maybe start to think they are coming back. But as long as they are in lockstep, as long as they are represented by Rush Limbaugh and FOX “News”, as long as they are the party of extremism and judgment rather than a party of rational individuals, they are a dead party to me. Break ranks and think for yourselves, don’t hold them. That’s your only way out.

    Americans DO NOT torture and we need to see some prosecutions soon. Show me again what a few repubs showed me when I was a kid. That there’s a difference between right and wrong, between legal and illegal, and that you RECOGNIZE that difference.