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January 24, 2014 3:19 PM Rebranding: Who Needs It?

By Ed Kilgore

The Mike Huckabee brouhaha yesterday offered about the 155th recent opportunity for non-conservatives to observe that the “rebranding” exercise of the Republican Party isn’t going that well. But as The Atlantic’s Molly Ball observes today, Republicans really just don’t care:

While Democrats fixate on what they consider the GOP’s failed makeover, Republicans have moved on. The delegates at Thursday’s RNC meeting weren’t brooding over the party’s lack of reorientation. They were getting upbeat briefings about how far the party has come in the past year and how bright the future looks. As Massachusetts Republican committeeman Ron Kaufman told me, the time for “painful self-examination” has passed. “Now we’re implementing it, and it’s going to pay off. Everything couldn’t be better right now for us.”
He’s not wrong. Without changing a thing, Republicans are very well positioned for the midterm elections this year and even for the 2016 presidential election. As the University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato recently noted, Republicans are almost guaranteed to keep the House of Representatives in November; they have about a 50-50 chance of taking the majority in the U.S. Senate; and they are likely to keep their majority of the nation’s governor’s mansions. The erosion of public trust in Obama and Democrats spurred by the botched introduction of the healthcare exchanges continues to reverberate in public polling of contests up and down the ballot, erasing the public-opinion edge Democrats gained from the government shutdown and tilting more and more contests in the GOP’s favor, according to Sabato, who on Thursday revised his ratings of three Senate contests, tilting all of them more toward Republicans.

Now anyone who reads this blog surely knows by now that the bright 2014 prospects for an unregenerated GOP are largely baked into the cake, thanks to a sizable midterm turnout advantage, a House landscape with few marginal districts, and a very favorable Senate landscape. And there are just enough grounds for 2016 optimism among Republicans to make a good midterm outcome quite enough to convince most of these birds that a genuine “rebranding” is a fallback measure, only to be used in emergencies, and vastly less attractive than taking a chance on winning with their full freak flag displayed. Meanwhile, there are plenty of bells and whistles a party as wealthy as the GOP can deploy to improve their chances on the margins, as Bell notes:

At Thursday’s RNC meeting, delegates got closed-door briefings on all the ways the GOP has upped its game in the past year. The RNC has been raising money at a record clip, enabling Chairman Reince Priebus to fulfill his goal of staffing an unprecedented national political operation. There are more than 160 field staffers living and organizing in 26 states, and they’ll be in all 50 by the end of the year. There are Hispanic outreach staffers in Colorado, Asian-American staffers in California, African-American organizers in Detroit, a youth director in Pennsylvania. The chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, Peter Goldberg, marveled to me that there are now full-time-staffed RNC field offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, with more on the way. “That’s never existed before,” he said.
Republicans are also investing tens of millions of dollars in their data, digital, and Internet operations, opening an office in Silicon Valley and hiring numerous tech-savvy staffers. Meanwhile, they’re undertaking a series of picayune but potentially consequential changes to the presidential nominating process….
Democrats roll their eyes at these efforts—see, they say, Republicans think they can dress up the same old ideas with fancy Facebook doodads and slick new slogans, but they’re not fundamentally changing what it is they’re offering in policy and philosophical terms. But to Republicans, the idea that they would change what they stand for was always oversold. The Growth and Opportunity Project’s only policy recommendation was immigration reform—which, granted, hasn’t happened, blocked by House Republicans, though it still could get done this year. The bulk of the report, though, focused on changing the party’s image and effectiveness through rhetoric and tactics.

So no: other than the occasional outcast like John Weaver who still has cache with the MSM, there’s really not much Republicans interest in rebranding any more. They’d just as soon go with what they’ve got and avoid the necessity of compromise if they do win big in 2014 and 2016. All they need now is a decent 2016 presidential candidate, and the troubles afflicting Chris Christie could make that decision more of a fashion show than a civil war. So we’d all do well to stop marveling at the contradictions between “rebranding” rhetoric and the underlying reality. That’s all history now, and will remain so until such time as Republicans find themselves in really big trouble.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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