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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

GOP Suffers From Mixed Messages

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

Following the 2012 presidential defeat, Republicans sought to rebrand their image.  In a 100-page report, entitled the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” a series of recommendations were made, most notably about the messaging that the party sends to the electorate. 

In fact, the second recommendation was that the Republican Party “needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Whether the entire party agrees with that, and other recommendations, is something that appears to be at the heart of an intense debate within the GOP, most notably demonstrated recently by the four different responses given to the president’s State of the Union Address.

U.S. Representative Cathy Morris Rodgers sought to bring a more “hopeful Republican vision” not only to the political debate, but to perhaps soften the image of the GOP with women. 

So it probably comes as no surprise that both McMorris Rodgers and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen served for what mainstream Republicans had hoped would be the coordinated effort as the ‘official’ response to the president.

And considering that the gender gap was present again in 2012, Republicans thought it wise to present a “forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women,” as one of the rebranding recommendations suggested. 

But all within the party may not have read the report and its recommendations.  U.S. Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party favorite, called on the nation’s traditional of political protest to center his response to the president’s address. 

In his speech, Senator Lee said, “the test of any political movement is not what that movement is against, but what it is for.”  But in the first part of his address, Lee went on the attack against both the current Obama administration’s liberalism and the Republicanism of Eisenhower in the 1950s. 

Fellow Tea Party compatriot, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, took a much more libertarian approach to the conservative philosophy, although he continued to hit on the common themes of cutting spending and taxes, attacking the lack of transparency in legislative actions, restoring “constitutional principles,” and protecting the Second Amendment. 

These rhetorical lines work well with Tea Party supporters, but outside that faction, the continued push on those ideas may negate the party’s attempt to “stop talking to itself.”

But Paul also recognized the need to expand the Republican coalition, to include immigrants, especially Latinos.  Taking McMorris Rodgers’ speech to Spanish-language media, Ros-Lehtinen sought to be the Republican entry into this growing bloc of voters.

But if Republicans want to eat into the 71% support that Latinos gave to Obama, the internal debate over immigration is likely not going to help the Republicans gain entry. 

In fact, in the second and third recommendations regarding Hispanics and the GOP messaging, Republicans should “carefully craft a tone that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the Hispanic community” and that in “the modern media environment a poorly phrased argument or out-of-context statement can spiral out of control and reflect poorly” on the party. 

While the president’s State of the Union seemed more like a grocery list of items randomly picked from each aisle (a little domestic here, some economic policy there, oh, here’s foreign policy), the diverse responses given by the GOP means that the messaging work is still needed. 

But with our modern political parties serving as more coalitions than a coherent organization, the GOP will most likely continue to suffer from mixed messaging, at best.