Why the GOP Rebranding is Doomed, At Least For Now

When a company or an organization decides to do a rebranding, it does some research, maybe hires consultants, gets input from key employees, and then makes decisions about what the rebranding is going to consist of. This process can at times be excruciating, all the more so if the organization has some commitment to consensus; if you've ever suffered through a web redesign, you've probably had the experience of wondering, as the debate over the difference between particular shades of blue stretches into its third hour, just how much it would hurt if you plunged a pen through your ear into your brain. But at the end of the process, there's someone in charge who will have the final say.

But when a political party decides to do a rebranding, things are a lot more difficult. In fact, it may not even be possible to get everyone to agree that the rebranding will actually take place. And once it begins, it can just go on forever, because the influence over the party's brand is so widely distributed. Even after it's over, you can't just say to everyone, "Here's the new stationary, and this is our new slogan; make sure you use it." Because if they don't like it, they won't.

This is the problem the Republican party now faces. Many people within the party think a rebranding is in order, to cast off the party's image as a bunch of nativist, misogynistic, rich old white guys and make itself more palatable to young people, women, and minorities. But the party is full of people who have troubling ideas about how a rebranding ought to take place, and people who don't think there needs to be any rebranding at all. There are so many that Ed Kilgore was able to come up with ten different kinds of Republicans who can sabotage the rebranding effort.

So various members of the party keep causing problems by saying what they think, particularly when it comes to topics like rape, or reproduction, or really anything involving, you know, women. The latest, as you probably heard, was Congressman Michael Burgess, who, in support of a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks on the unsupported hypothesis that fetuses at that stage can feel pain, offered his hilarious belief that 15 week-old fetuses must be able to feel pain, since they're already engaged in a pre-natal festival of onanism. "If they're a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs," he said, wistfully recalling sonograms he had seen. "If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?" The punch line is that before Burgess became a congressman, you know what he did for a living? He was an OB-GYN.

One way to look at this is, as Politico does, that the rebranding is being undercut by "the clueless caucus of the Republican Party." But these kinds of things aren't just coming from the same two or three people. Almost every time we hear some new outrageous statement from a GOP congressman, it's someone entirely new. That's because those beliefs are actually held quite widely within the party. There's an almost endless supply of yahoo congressmen with retrograde beliefs, just waiting to make their dunderheaded debut on the national news.

John Boehner can't stop these outbursts, because he's not that kind of boss. This gets back to the difference between politics and other endeavors. Corporate CEOs and generals usually do poorly in politics because the hierarchical environments in which they flourished are so different from electoral campaigns and elected office. When you're the boss, you can issue orders. That new electric nose-picker we're releasing next month? The box is going to be blue, and if you'd prefer it to be red, you're welcome to go find another job. You'll be taking your unit up that hill, captain, whether you like it or not. But Boehner can't fire the wingnuts in his caucus. What's worse, they can fire him, by getting a different Speaker. Even when someone hasn't been elected yet, it's extremely hard to push them out of a race; don't forget, they tried to do that with Todd Akin, and he just decided he didn't want to leave.

And because the clueless caucus probably encompasses a majority of the party, the rebranding may well be doomed, unless somebody can rebrand the party by force. And the only one who can do that is a presidential candidate. So it may have to wait until 2016.

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