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Can Republicans rebrand?

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Smart v. Stupid

Can Republicans rebrand?

  • Cornell University Library

The Republican Party’s need to remake itself is universally understood. The current party cannot survive in a multicultural America where a whites-only election strategy can no longer win national elections.

The demise of whites-only politics actually goes even deeper. There are only a handful of states left where an election can still be won by telling white voters they need to stick together. Even most white people now find this idea disgusting. Of those, more states — like Arizona and North Carolina — are about to tip out.

So the party realizes that it will have to change. But can it? Can a party that is based on three core principles – anti-cooperation, white supremacy, and rich-supremacy – hope to escape its own history and regain relevance when these ideas no longer hold sway?

Party leaders hope so. One of the party’s rising hopefuls, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal recently wrote:

“At present, any reading of the headlines over the past week indicates that Republicans are fighting to protect the rich and cut benefits for seniors. It may be possible to have worse political positioning than that, but I’m not sure how.”

Jindal is right. Just now Republicans look downright senile.

But to simply diagnose the Republican problem as “party of the rich,” misperceives the real illness. Republicans have always been a party for the rich. That’s a perfectly viable strategy because most Americans aspire to be wealthy. They are perfectly willing to allow a party that they imagine will one day be for them. This explains the public's tolerance of the entirely unsupportable claim that the rich are “job creators.” (Of course, customers are the actual “job creators” but that’s an argument for another day.)

No, where Republicans went off the rails is when they added a Tea Party attribute to the mix. When “the party of the rich” became “the party of the rich, the angry and the mean” it was a bridge too far...

There is some evidence that party leaders understand the need to cut the Tea Partiers  loose. Marco Rubio has begun talking about how Republicans need to take leadership in creating educational opportunities for all Americans. This is a lion’s-leap away from the party dogma that has argued that college makes you stupid. But it is more directly a turn away from the Tea Party idea that government shouldn’t do anything to help anyone.

It’s no accident that Tea Party darling (and kingmaker) Senator Jim DeMint picked this moment to resign from the Senate. He sees that breakfast-bitter is no longer the brew of choice in his party. Rather than face declining influence, he’ll move to a “think tank” funded to promote corporate interests.

So step one is to kick Tea Partiers to the curb. They were a failed experiment – a deal with the devil that didn’t pan out for more than one election cycle.

Step two, of course, is to bury a white-centric history and reputation as quickly as possible. This should be an interesting dance, because the non-white bench in the R Party is exceedingly weak. Jindal is Indian, a group that doesn’t really fit into minority culture except by skin color. He’s been known to choke at big moments and always seems out of breath.

And the party still suffers from its white supremacists, even today. Virginia Republican Tom Davis recently said Obama won the election because “the underclass” voted for him after being “pulled out of the apartments.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Then there is Marco Rubio, Republican’s Great Latin Hope. He rose to state office on a phony Cuban exile story and has some shady financial dealings in his past. (In fairness to Rubio, it may have been his grandfather who made up the exile story.) Rubio doesn’t seem to have the stones to play on the national stage. And his state, Florida, is also poised to become solidly blue. Republicans even lost the rock-reliable Cuban community this election.

The field gets weaker from there. The party’s past practices have made for a shallow pool of non-white players.

So despite the news of this day, being the party of the rich is the least of Republican’s problems. People forget the ins and outs of economic policy between election cycles. But families take a lot longer to forget racism, sexism, voter suppression and demonization of their ethnicity. Those cuts run deep and they are long lasting.

In the end, the Republican Party relied on the Southern Strategy for perhaps a decade too long. Then they allowed their most undereducated mouth breathers to have a platform. The organized and widespread attempt – and failure – at voter suppression was the last straw. These mistakes will be a lot harder to fix than being rich-centric. They won’t be fixed in one or two election cycles.

In the meantime, rich people should expect to pay a price for their bad choices and bad acts. They cheated and they got caught. We can each decide for ourselves whether that seems fair or not.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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