Recently the Vermont GOP held a gala event featuring New Jersey Governor Christ Christie. While the press was barred from the event, a couple of articles (they are available here and here) are available from people apparently at the event that gives some idea of what took place. These two articles highlight the real problem faced by the Republican party.
After recent election losses and receiving most of the blame for the government shutdown, not to mention various incidents of foot-in-mouth-disease, conventional wisdom has Republicans in a public relations hole and they desperately need to change their image. As one of the article puts it: “The Vermont GOP and the National GOP that Christie is a part of, is starting the process of re-branding itself. That re-branding is going to take place swiftly and rapidly.”
The first question should be, what are they re-branding themselves from? During campaign season, the Republicans usually proclaim themselves to be the party of limited government, protection of individual rights, and defense of the Constitution. There is much talk about getting government out of the way of entrepreneurs, reducing the tax burden on the most productive, and depending on the issues of the day, about protecting some of the rights listed in the Constitution. For example, if the Democrats are pushing gun control, then the second amendment is at the fore.
Sadly, there is not consistent support for these principles after the election. One only need to look at history to see instances of the supposed champions of capitalism and individualism trampling those principles. From Nixon creating the EPA, to Reagan doubling government spending while saying government isn’t the answer, to George W. Bush signing the Patriot Act and Sarbanes-Oxley while increasing government spending by about 40% ($1 trillion) elected Republicans can hardly be said to have followed through on their campaign rhetoric. In the end, many Republicans hold the same collectivist principles as the Democrats.
How will they re-brand themselves? Apparently by being even more like Democrats. From the same article, “Second, if the Republicans are re-branding to look more like Democrats, where are the Democrats going to go? By engaging in this re-branding now, early, the Republicans if successful will occupy the “sweet center” of the political spectrum.”
How might Republicans accomplish this re-branding? It is explained by David Sunderland, the newly elected head of the Vermont Republican Party, this way, “Every Vermonter has different thoughts on how to move Vermont forward, of course. The Vermont GOP now, once again, welcomes them all.” This means that the re-branded “cocktail party” Republicans will have no principles. They will welcome equally those who believe that the state has the right to compel you to buy insurance or use “green” energy and those who believe that the individual should be left alone to pursue his own happiness with the government only protecting them from force and fraud. With such a “big tent” policy, the fundamental principles will always drift towards the worst, the most statist, beliefs of the group members. This will guarantee that Republicans will continue their drift in the direction of ever more statism, despite their rhetoric to the contrary.
If the Republican party continues their tradition to re-branding themselves to be more like the Democrats, embracing so-called “compassionate conservatism,” there will be no real choice for voters. When presented with a “full-strength” and consistent Democrat and an inconsistent Democrat-lite, why would voters chose the latter? Even if they do get elected, what benefit will there be to the country when the Democrat and the Democrat-lite hold the same basic, statist, principles?
This essential dilemma of the Republican party was illustrated very clearly in an English language Venezuelan blog post regarding the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, the last before Chavez died. In speaking of Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate in that election:
His problem was that with most politicians of Venezuela they did not have the courage to lose an election based on true principles, to force the sinvergüenzas [shameless people]to vote for Chavez in full knowledge of the situation. Instead they pretended that by promising a better chavismo, a Brazilian Lulaesque approach, they would convince people. As I anticipated already in the primaries discussions, they failed because when everything is said a sinvergüenza [shameless person] is not going to try an ersatz when he already has the real thing.
This exactly parallels the situation that faces the Republican party. To actually change the country for the better, they have to be willing to stand up for the principles they largely give lip service to today, explaining why these principles are better for the individual and the country. And they have to be willing to support those principles with real action, even if it means losing an election or two. They are already losing elections, or losing ground morally when they win, so the actual down side is small.
By following this strategy, Republicans would clearly contrast the two parties and force voters to make their choice between them in full knowledge of the differences. Voters would then have to explicitly choose between those who would protect their individual rights even against the majority and those who will violate those same rights at the whim of the majority or even an influential minority.