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Republicans: Is an extreme makeover necessary?

Influential GOP leaders say that the party must learn from its drubbing in the 2012 elections, and revise its message to voters.

A new trend is sweeping through the Republican Party, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. It’s called “rebranding.” In recent weeks, several influential Republican leaders have stepped forward to say that the party must learn from its drubbing in the 2012 elections, and revise its message to voters. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana called on the GOP to stop being the “stupid party” and stop damaging its brand “with stupid and offensive comments.’’ House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made a major speech focusing on what the party could do to help the embattled middle class, rather than the usual rhetoric on “job creators,” tax cuts, and deficits. Perhaps most significantly of all, GOP strategist Karl Rove announced the launch of the Conservative Victory Project, in which he’ll devote his Super PAC to defending incumbent Republican senators from primary challenges by “right-wing crazies” like failed Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. To make this reinvention work, said Anson Kaye in USNews.com,the party must seize back control from uncompromising ideologues who ignore “practical electoral concerns.” That’s why Rove’s Super PAC will spend money to make sure that far-right candidates don’t win primaries  and taint the whole party with incendiary rhetoric on abortion, gay marriage, and immigration. It’s the only chance for Republicans to win national elections again. 

The last thing the party needs is more of Rove’s establishment Republicanism, said Erick Erickson in RedState.com. Rove and his allies spent over $300 million of wealthy donors’ money on establishment candidates like Mitt Romney in 2012, with “jack to show for it.” In 2010 and in the primaries last year, Republican voters made it clear that they want real conservatives, not a reprise of George W. Bush’s “big government conservatism.” We’ve had enough of “squishy centrists” like Romney and John McCain, said Mark Meckler in Spectator.org.It was their failure to excite voters that gave us the Obama presidency. By trying to purge people of real conviction from the party, Rove has succeeded in rallying a group of “battered, bruised, depressed, and demoralized conservative constituencies” against him. 

“The Rove–Tea Party feud is a joyous thing to watch,” said Michael Tomasky in TheDailyBeast.com. The GOP has, for 40 years, organized itself around a message to white voters that “they are coming after your money and status and privilege.” It’s a message that Rove ruthlessly exploited in masterminding Bush’s rise from Texas to the White House. But with the aging white electorate shrinking, “resentment politics” is no longer a winner. That sets up the war that’s just begun between the “rebranders and the dead-enders.” Here’s a tip to my friends on the Right: “Cosmetic rebranding” won’t fix your problems. 

Democrats may be laughing dismissively now, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com, but there’s already been an “outbreak of substance on the Right.” Sen. Marco Rubio has led the way on a new effort at sensible immigration reform. The initiatives that Cantor unveiled last week include an education policy reducing costs for middle-class students, and tax reform that would simplify returns and benefit working families. And in Rubio, the party has a rising young star “deft at navigating between the Tea Party and the GOP establishment,” said Chris Cillizza, also in WashingtonPost.com. Conservatives admire his Reaganesque fervor for bootstrap capitalism, traditional values, and American exceptionalism. Party bosses, meanwhile, see a potential presidential candidate whose youth and Hispanic roots appeal to voters beyond the base.

Rubio has plenty of company, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. Cantor, Jindal, and Paul Ryan are also young, dynamic conservatives, and together they offer “a pretty dynamic counterargument to those who think the Republican Party is doomed.” But as Republicans undergo our rebranding, we need to maintain our core, small-government philosophy. Conservatives will “never beat liberals at the game of whose heart bleeds the most.” Democrats try to prove they have a “monopoly on compassion” by cutting a check to anyone with a problem, “even when all we have in the checking account is IOUs and cash on loan from China.” So the real challenge here is explaining to voters why the Democrats’ spending is so harmful in the long term—and how smaller government, a fairer tax code, and a freer economy would help everyone by helping America grow again. Our problems “don’t stem from a lack of principle, but a lack of persuasiveness.” Rebrand by all means—but don’t retreat. 

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