When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx I was infinitely more interested in the Yankees, the Knicks, the Rangers and the New York Football Giants (as we used to call them) than I was in politics. What 10-year old kid cares about politics? Ten year old kids in the Bronx care about Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, not their congressman who — if my life depended on it — I couldn’t have picked out of a lineup.
Still I knew we were Democrats. My father was a blue-collar worker so that made sense. I also knew that everybody in the neighborhood – and by “everybody” I mean everybody – was a Democrat. Republicans don’t live in tenements in the South Bronx.
And I knew one other thing, a tidbit I picked up from up my father: “Republicans are for rich people,” he told me. He said it with absolutely no malice. He delivered the message as a simple matter of fact. And since we were hardly rich, we were Democrats.
Cut to today, many years from my days growing up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. How much has really changed? Ask folks whom Republicans care about most and they’ll tell you what my father told me: Republicans are for rich people.
Never mind that it’s not that simple. Never mind that Republicans want everybody to have the opportunity to move up the ladder and accumulate wealth. Never mind, too, that poor people and the middle class haven’t done well under the most liberal Democrat ever to occupy the White House — and almost certainly would have done better if a conservative Republican who understood how business works had been president instead of Barack Obama.
So what’s the take-away? For openers, Republicans need to change their image or they’re doomed. Except they don’t have a clue how to do it – or they would have done it by now.
Republicans need a strong PR firm that specializes in disaster cases to do an image makeover. One example of the GOP problem: Republicans are against raising the minimum wage. That may be good economics – the Congressional Budget Office says a hike to $10.10 and hour would cost the economy 500,000 jobs — but the public is on the Democrats’ side. The Republican position on the minimum wage bolsters the opinion that they only care about rich people.
Quick: Tell me who has made the most convincing case for Republicans that raising the minimum wage is a bad thing for poor people? I don’t know, either.
No matter what happens November 4th, Republicans will continue to have a terrible image the next day. Ebola is only slightly less popular than the national Republican Party. So, ditch the political strategists (who are part of the problem) and bring in that smart PR firm loaded with people who have fresh ideas.
The GOP may take control of the Senate in about a week, but the party’s image problem doesn’t bode well for the party in 2016. Whoever the Republicans nominate he (or she) will start out as the underdog. Democrats may be incompetent, but when you promise to take from the rich (with higher taxes) and re-distribute the booty to everyone else, that goes a long way to trump incompetence. That’s one of the reasons Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Pandering to the supposed “have nots” is in their DNA.
Is it a form of bribery – promising (and if you win, actually giving) money in exchange for votes? Sure, but there’s no law against that kind of bribery. There is a name for it though: politics as usual.
So if the Republicans want to win in 2016 they’re going to have to do a few things – now!
First, they need to find a likable, attractive, articulate front man or woman to explain Republican/conservative principles to a nation made up disproportionately of low information voters (which is a nice way of saying “dopes”). Every time I see the Republican leadership in their blue suits, white shirts and red ties, I cringe. Politics is part entertainment and these guys are duds. No one listens to duds.
They need someone who speaks plain English and never (to use one easy example) utters the letters CR (for continuing resolution) when they’re on TV. That’s when MEGO (my eyes glaze over). They need to find someone who is not like Mitch McConnell who is always on TV making the Republican case – but comes off as, humorless, cold and stiff.
The GOP has a few likable men and women who know how to talk. So the party needs to pick one – one! – and let that person make the case. You can’t have 10 different people talking for the party. It waters down the message. Besides, 10 messengers equal no messengers in the world of politics.
So which wing of the party is going to decide whom the spokesperson should be? That gets us to point number two.
The moderate wing and the hard right wing (sometimes called the “suicide wing” of the Republican Party) must – repeat must – make peace. They must figure out a way to unite. The Ted Cruz wing must come to terms with the Jeb Bush and Chris Christie wing. And vice versa. If the Civil War continues – and that’s what it is – the Republicans cannot win. Family Feud is a TV game show that provides a few chuckles. If in 2016 it’s still a Republican reality show, the only ones chuckling will be Democrats.
Barack Obama did not beat John McCain and Mitt Romney. Conservative purists (the aforementioned suicide wing of the party) beat the GOP candidates. How? They sat home. And every one of the four million or so ideologically pure conservatives who refused to vote for a moderate (despite the fact that the moderate was way more conservative than Barack Obama) in effect, voted for … Barack Obama.
I get emails from conservatives who are proud members of the suicide wing. They tell me that there’s “no difference between Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton.” These people are delusional. They tell me if Christie or Bush winds up with the nomination they definitely will not vote. They’re like children who want everything to go their way. And when they don’t, they pout, stomp their feet and storm off to their room. The purists can defeat the Republican nominee in 2016 just as they did in 2008 and 2012.
And, as I say, there’s an obligation on the moderates too. Figure out a way to make peace with the hard right. Make concessions. Both sides need to understand that compromise is not akin to selling out your principles; compromise is not a crime against humanity.
I know: easier said than done. What happens if you’re a Republican who thinks gays should have the same right to marry as heterosexuals? How do you compromise with the religious right that will never consent to that? And how does the religious right compromise on such an important issue to them? Bring in a mediator, for crying out loud. Figure it out. If you don’t you lose.
And if you lose, I hope you like Hillary Clinton — because she is going to be your president for at least four years – and probably eight.