Repub­li­cans get painful news on brand woes Re­turn to core val­ues may be fix

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

The GOP has grap­pled for months with a self-ac­knowl­edged brand prob­lem, and the con­se­quences just be­came all the more painfully clear: The num­ber of Amer­i­cans shed­ding the Repub­li­can la­bel to be­come in­de­pen­dents is ex­plod­ing. The so­lu­tion, po­lit­i­cal strate­gists sug­gest, may lie in party lead­ers’ abil­ity to re­turn to core val­ues that dis­tin­guish Repub­li­cans from Democrats on ev­ery­thing from spend­ing to per­sonal free­dom.

The lat­est ev­i­dence of the GOP’s woes — and op­por­tu­ni­ties — sur­faced Wed­nes­day with a Gallup poll that showed the num­ber of Amer­i­cans self-iden­ti­fy­ing as in­de­pen­dents soared to a record 42 per­cent while the share of Repub­li­cans plunged to an all-time low of 25 per­cent.

The sil­ver lin­ing for Repub­li­cans, how­ever, is that Democrats failed to make any gains dur­ing the GOP free fall, with their num­ber stuck at 31 per­cent of the 18,000 adults Gallup sur­veyed.

The polling data added to the self-im­posed soul-search­ing that many Repub­li­cans have em­barked upon since the 2012 elec­tion losses.

Rep. Jim Bri­den­s­tine of Ok­la­homa, a ris­ing star among con­ser­va­tives, lays the blame on “Repub­li­cans con­tin­u­ing to join Democrats in their sup­port for more taxes, more spend­ing and more debt.”

Mr. Bri­den­s­tine specif­i­cally crit­i­cized the spend­ing and tax deal his party’s 2012 vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, House Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ryan, cut re­cently with his Se­nate Demo­cratic coun­ter­part, Patty Mur­ray of Wash­ing­ton.

“A per­fect ex­am­ple is the Paul Ryan-Patty Mur­ray bud­get ‘deal.’ Lob­by­ists and spe­cial in­ter­ests con­tinue to win, the Amer­i­can peo­ple con­tinue to suf­fer, and nei­ther party ben­e­fits,” Mr. Bri­den­s­tine said in enu­mer­at­ing what he saw as a missed Repub­li­can op­por­tu­nity to de­mand deeper spend­ing and deficit cuts.

Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, a po­ten­tial Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, agrees. The poll “re­flects the prob­lem that nei­ther party has done enough to bal­ance the bud­get, re­duce the size of gov­ern­ment and pro­tect the lib­erty of Amer­i­cans,” Mr. Paul said.

Some con­ser­va­tives, iron­i­cally, be­lieve Democrats de­serve much of the credit for keep­ing the GOP alive with their blun­ders on the Oba­macare roll­out.

“If it weren’t for the Demo­cratic Party, the Repub­li­can Party would have dis­ap­peared long ago,” said Cal­i­for­nia con­ser­va­tive GOP leader Larry East­land. “The only life seen in the Repub­li­can Party with which the pub­lic has ral­lied in the last five years was Sen. Rand Paul’s fil­i­buster.”

Repub­li­can poll­ster Kellyanne Conway sees a kind of po­etic jus­tice in the vot­ers’ ap­par­ent dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence and dis­gust with the way the par­ties con­duct pol­i­tics.

“For years, peo­ple called them­selves ‘in­de­pen­dents’ be­cause they were not pay­ing at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics. Now they call them­selves ‘in­de­pen­dents’ pre­cisely be­cause they ARE pay­ing at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics,” she said.

Some on the right be­lieve that the only way the GOP will avoid go­ing the down the path of the de­funct Whig Party is to re­turn to the party’s core val­ues and stop break­ing prom­ises to keep taxes, spend­ing and reg­u­la­tory bur­dens low. On those is­sues, they see Demo­cratic weak­nesses that can be ex­ploited.

“The United States has spent 100 years fight­ing and de­feat­ing cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ments that con­trol hu­man be­hav­ior and limit free­dom, so it is not sur­pris­ing that Amer­i­cans won’t iden­tify with a Demo­cratic Party that ad­heres to the same prin­ci­ples that have wrecked na­tions across the world and through­out his­tory,” said Mr. Bri­den­s­tine, a Navy fighter pi­lot in Iraq and Afghanistan be­fore he joined pol­i­tics. “The sur­prise is that Repub­li­cans have not ben­e­fited.”

The shift away from the GOP to in­de­pen­dent also re­flects a fer­vor among con­ser­va­tives to put ide­ol­ogy and be­liefs ahead of party loy­alty.

“A grow­ing num­ber of con­ser­va­tives, and es­pe­cially tea par­ty­ers and lib­er­tar­i­an­lean­ing Amer­i­cans, have de­cided that their com­mit­ment is more to ide­ol­ogy than po­lit­i­cal party,” said Mer­rill Matthews, a res­i­dent scholar at the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy In­no­va­tion. “And while they will likely vote Repub­li­can in most elec­tions, they have be­come dis­sat­is­fied with the Repub­li­can la­bel be­cause they don’t think it stands for — or too of­ten strays from — prin­ci­pled con­ser­vatism.”

Repub­li­cans also have suf­fered from foibles that have handed the op­po­si­tion easy prey in the po­lit­i­cal blame game.

For in­stance, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee is mak­ing hay this week with videos cas­ti­gat­ing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, now con­sid­ered a lead­ing Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial con­tender for 2016.

Democrats are ac­cus­ing Mr. Christie’s ad­min­is­tra­tion of need­lessly shut­ting lanes to a bridge in the state and caused huge traf­fic snarls be­cause he wanted to pun­ish a New Jersey mayor for not join­ing other Democrats in en­dors­ing the gov­er­nor for re-elec­tion last year. Mr. Christie buried his Demo­cratic chal­lenger in a land­slide any­way.

Such ap­par­ent petty po­lit­i­cal vin­dic­tive­ness is hard on the im­age of a party that claims a com­mit­ment to ethics and prin­ci­ples, and Mr. Christie late Wed­nes­day sug­gested he had been mis­led on the de­ci­sion by his staff.

“What Gov. Christie has done is re­in­force ev­ery stereo­type the Amer­i­can pub­lic has of this gen­er­a­tion of Repub­li­can lead­ers,” said Mr. East­land, a Cal­i­for­nia busi­ness­man and Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union board mem­ber. “Pol­i­tics — pure and sim­ple pol­i­tics at its worst. I have al­ways used the anal­ogy of ‘How will it play to the boys in Bay­onne [New Jersey] at the bar hav­ing a beer?’ I think they’d say, ‘Don’t tread on me,’ which is just as vi­able in the Amer­i­can lex­i­con to­day as it was when it was first used by the Con­ti­nen­tal Marines in 1775.”

Gallup’s anal­y­sis at­tributes the “rise in po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence to “Amer­i­cans’ record or near-record neg­a­tive views of the two ma­jor U.S. par­ties” and Congress.

Gallup says that makes it harder to pre­dict the out­comes of this year’s con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions.

“Be­cause U.S. vot­ers are less an­chored to the par­ties than ever be­fore, it’s not clear what kind of ap­peals may be most ef­fec­tive to win­ning votes. But with Amer­i­cans in­creas­ingly es­chew­ing party la­bels for them­selves, can­di­dates who are less closely aligned to their party or its pre­vail­ing doc­trine may ben­e­fit,” the polling agency said.

That may be true so long as “less closely aligned to their party’s pre­vail­ing doc­trine” means that Repub­li­can can­di­dates can con­vince vot­ers they are shed­ding the party’s re­cent monikers, prac­tices and prom­ises and re-em­brac­ing the GOP’s his­tor­i­cal com­mit­ment to per­sonal lib­erty and lim­ited gov­ern­ment.

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