Grand Old Party Needs a Brand New Song
The College Republican National Committee has published a rueful assessment of the GOP, commencing with the pull quote taken from a focus group: “I would say your image is all wrong”. That’s only the beginning, dear young people. It’s more than your image. It’s your substance.
The nut graf in the papers today: GOP up and comers have name recognition:
Yet across all six groups, when the topic turned to future leaders of the parties, the GOP was clearly in a stronger position. Asked to name up-and- coming Republican stars, these young Obama voters could point to a number of examples. Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, and Rand Paul were all mentioned.
But the money quote is in the previous paragraph:
When those same respondents were asked to name Republican leaders, they focused heavily on media personalities and commentators: Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck.
Republicans could win younger voters but not with the strategies outlined in this document. These proposals are too meek, too glib, too accepting of the existing power structures within their party. Nowhere do these earnest young things at CRNC point out the need for new leadership within the GOP at any level or sacking the existing spokesmen. More below the fold:
Younger Republicans readily admit the party’s in trouble: the GOP brand is toxic to essentially anyone younger than 30. CNRC believe the brand could be rebuilt around a quasi-libertarian ethos with genuine appeal to young entrepreneur types.
CNRC does a good job dissecting the GOP’s self-analysis, outlining three points of failure.
1. Tech. The Democrats grass roots were better organised, more attuned to social media, more data driven.
2. Policy: The GOP’s message only seemed convey the need for lower taxes on the wealthy and prevention of gay marriage. The GOP lacked a positive message which could have resonated with younger voters
3. Messengers: Eric Cantor said the GOP was like a pizza company which only changed the pizza box and not the pizza.
Of these three, I contend the GOP’s most serious problem is the third failure. Who speaks for the Republicans? Rush Limbaugh and Billo and the Folx at Fox. When you lose control of your own message, you’ve got bigger problems than pizza boxes or even ingredients.
1. Compose a song worth singing, featuring inspiring lyrics and a catchy tune, played by a competent band of musicians.
2. Find a good-looking singer who knows the words and can sing them with conviction.
3. Persuade the folks at home to sing along.
I’m not kidding about the song. The GOP has a vast pile of sheet music to choose from: chiefly in the country music category. Something inspirational and patriotic, in the key of B flat so it can be played by brass. Keep it within a few notes of an octave so everyone can sing it.
Rolling out this song metaphor like so much pie crust, the GOP needs a positive message and not the skim-milk libertarian pap proposed by CRNC. The Less Gummint song won’t do, not when you propose to be that Gummint. Conservatives aren’t Libertarians. The GOP’s in enough trouble, having flirted with the likes of Ron and Rand Paul, they should have learned their lesson by now. Clearly they have not. As for “Please Don’t Vote for a Democrat”, that sort of crap would work better if anyone could be persuaded to vote For the Republican.
The GOP already has a perfectly adequate social media framework: the Protestant and Catholic churches, the Mormons and Pentecostals also. The great thing about a working church: it’s got a place for everyone, from mewling infants to the elderly in wheelchairs. Want to form up a viable message for young people? Go to the youth groups in those churches, talk to the youth pastors. Find out what matters to those kids and young adults, especially the women among them. Those kids have been coopted by the Democratic Party because the GOP has come to represent all those kids hate. White men might go R+8 but their wives don’t. And their kids don’t.
The problems facing the GOP are also the problems facing American churches. Want to reach out to Hispanic youth? Try the Catholic Church, now making a mighty resurgence in certain quarters despite the Catholic Church’s legacy of clergy abuses and coverups. Yet the Church has survived for two millenia, overcome legacies of far more venal leadership, held true to its ancient mandate in enough quarters to inspire the faithful, generation after generation.
But not all churches are succeeding: the GOP would do well to study those failures, for they mirror their own: geriatric congregations incapable of inspiring young people to support the ministry, a collapse of faith among educated people, a shortage of clergy, administrative poverty of spirit, unmerciful and uncharitable demonising of sinners, no message of redemption, no hope for the future.
I’m not saying the GOP should go proselytising in churches, they’ve tried and largely failed. But they’ve never seemed to get down into the basement where the youth group hangs out. They’ve demanded respect from those kids but never earned any. They’ve never listened to these kids. Small wonder they’re both leaving the church and leaving the GOP.
Though the youth of every generation is wont to rebel, entertaining naive fantasies about Freedom, seen through my eyes, this generation seems appallingly solemn. They’re so much better than my generation, so kindly and generous of spirit, so lacking in our besetting sins of racism and bigotry. They’ve fought longer wars than the Vietnam Generation or the WW2 Generation. An 18 year old casting his first ballot would have been sitting in his first grade classroom on the morning of 9/11. The Conservatives should have a lock on these kids.
Why don’t they? America’s religious freedom has allowed us to become the most religious nation. We’re fundamentally a bunch of small-c conservatives. Even the most liberal among us are more conservative than the conservatives of the UK, case in point. But there’s a lesson there, too: if you really want to kill a church, reduce its relevance to nil, make it a State Church, like the Church of England. As surely as democracy is best-served by religious freedom, the GOP undermines its own relevance by casting out its heretics. The GOP must learn to tolerate dissent if it is ever to regain relevance.
It won’t, of course. The GOP will pay lip service to this well-meant (if entirely inadequate) analysis of its problems from CRNC. If the GOP should be worried about any single trend, it should be concerned with its drop in popularity within the military. From 2005 to 2012, the GOP has dropped 10% within the ranks. The GOP still holds a commanding majority in the ranks — but this is the worst possible news for GOP strategists.
The GOP has tolerated its doctrinaires for far too long. The GOP will only reform when its current leadership dies off. Something will spring up from the wreckage: conservatism isn’t doctrinaire by definition. It holds to certain principles and not everyone will accept them. But in its present state, the GOP cannot be said to inspire anyone, least of all the clearly dispirited CRNC.