Travis Childers has become an ominous symbol for Republicans. He has provided a wake-up call to party leaders that the great unwashed multitudes have understood for a while: the term “Republican” doesn’t stand for anything anymore. If the Republican Party is to survive, the brand will have to be rebuilt.
Childers, by the way, is a Democrat who won Mississippi’s first congressional district – something virtually nobody thought possible. District One is one of the safer Republican seats in the country. If the Childers win is a harbinger, then look for the GOP to lose another twenty House seats in November. It’s possible that Democrats could pick up five seats in the Senate. If you combine that with a Democratic White House, the Republican Party fades to insignificance.
To understand how this has happened to the once-grand old party, you have to understand the concept of “positioning” of which “branding” is a part. Positioning is the art of creating a concept or “position” for a product in the mind of the prospective consumer. Once that position is established, you have a brand.
For example, both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have web sites for selling books. But Amazon “owns” the position of being the on-line bookseller while people think of Barnes & Noble as a traditional store. These positions are strong brands.
It works that way with any product. If you buy a can of Folgers, you expect to get coffee. If you open the can and you get beans, you might think a mistake was made at the factory. You try again and this time, you get corn. The next time, you reach for another brand.
Back in the wilderness days of the 60’s and 70’s, the GOP didn’t stand for much and wasn’t particularly relevant. Then, in the wake of William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, came Ronald Reagan. Reagan created a strong brand for the Republicans. He railed against Big Government, called for lower taxes, and a strong military. The Republican brand was established under Reagan as the party of empowering the people rather than the state.
It was a brand that showcased why the Republican Party was not only different from the Democratic Party – but better!
Then came the Bushes. The first President Bush famously said “read my lips, no new taxes,” then negotiated with Democrats to raise taxes. He talked about a “new world order” where Reagan had championed America. He bucked the brand and lost his reelection campaign to Bill Clinton.
Then came the second President Bush, who was thought by many to be more conservative than his father. Campaigning as a “compassionate conservative,” he claimed the presidency after the Florida debacle and began a gradual shift to the left.
He busted the Republican brand by expanding the Education Department and creating an entire new department (Homeland Security). He lost the battle to fix entitlements and responded by creating a new one, the pharmaceutical benefit, and by expanding middle-class welfare through CHIP insurance. For six years, he failed to wield his veto pen as the Republican Congress spent the country silly and tacked on billions of dollars in earmarks. 9/11 exposed the deterioration of our military prowess that occurred under the watch of his father and Bill Clinton.
Now here’s the really strange part of all this:
The more leftward Bush has turned, the more the Democrats and the media have branded him an archconservative. So Bush’s failures have been ascribed to conservative policies when they have been nothing of the kind.
The election of someone such as Barack Obama would ensure that most of the Bush policies (with the notable exception of the war) would be retained and expanded. Where Bush gave us a new entitlement, Obama would give us nationalized healthcare. Where Bush spent big, Obama would spend bigger.
Obama would give us a third Bush term.
McCain would give us open borders, amnesty for illegal aliens and just slightly less climate-change socialism than we would get from Obama. What’s the difference? Only that Obama will be true to his brand. He will faithfully provide higher taxes and bigger government. McCain, as Bush has done, will bust the brand and give us pretty much the same thing.