How can Republicans have such a terrific product – freedom, capitalism, limited government, growth and prosperity – and yet have such an awful brand?
Republicans in Congress have a worse approval rating than the man who brought you Obamacare: A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed only 37 percent of Americans have confidence in President Obama’s decision-making, but just 19 percent do for congressional Republicans.
There’s no doubt that that lack of confidence in Republicans is coming from many Republicans themselves. They’re spitting out their own product!
Again, we ask: How can Republicans have such a terrific product and such a horrible brand?
The likely reasons are many.
For one thing, and conservative Republicans will tell you this, congressional Republicans often aren’t all that committed to what they claim to represent – the above-stated principles – particularly limited government.
But even if they were committed and courageous, they’ve got some purely awful salesmen for the product. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who, in the absence of a Republican president, are the face of the party – aren’t all that telegenic or charismatic. Sorry, but in today’s world, that matters.
Another problem with the Republican brand is, more broadly, a problem with the conservative brand: Conservatives often come off sounding and looking dour and negative.
It’s a problem for any party that is in the minority at any given time: How do you provide opposition to the ruling party and its policies without being perceived as the proverbial “party of no”?
And much of what conservatives are selling – and what made America great – can easily be packaged and perceived in today’s “Just Do It” anything-goes society as dreary, mean and boring: Responsibility. Restraint. Work. Patience. Temperance. Delayed gratification. Discipline. Self-reliance. A lack of envy.
When you’ve got dour faces sounding like angry parents, that’s not a very marketable brand.
Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way.
When opposition groups sought to oust Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet in a 1988 plebiscite – and were offered free television time to make their case – their natural inclination was to show how awful he was. That campaign, while accurate, could have been quite grim. Instead, the “No” campaign seeking his ouster took on an incredibly surprising joyous tone, even featuring a jingle that “happiness is coming” post-Pinochet.
It worked. To nearly everyone’s surprise.
Today’s American conservatives and Republicans – in politics and in the media – could take a lesson from that. Why be so glum and angry, constantly focusing on the negative consequences of the other party’s destructive approaches? Take note of them, certainly. But don’t let that be what you’re about. Don’t allow yourselves to be defined (with the help of a hostile media) by negativity. That’s no way to win hearts and minds. Or elections.
Instead, why not offer real hope, not just the stuff of posters? Why not celebrate the fruits of traditional American values – those listed above, and more? Why not exhibit and extol the successes of freedom, free markets and individual liberty?
Their message this election year should be that happiness is coming – in the form of more freedom, lower taxes, growth, prosperity, jobs and more.
Enough with the gloom and doom. Let’s hear some boom.
Michael Ryan is editorial page editor at The Augusta (GA.) Chronicle, and executive director of the new Morris Civics Initiative, which aims to help create a renaissance of American responsibility and civics.