Republicans Seek to Re-brand Themselves As Inclusive, But Leaders Continue to Spout Divisive Views
When they meet with potential candidates, top Republican officials directly tell them the word “rape” should never come up when the candidates are explaining their abortion views.
The party’s elite, desperate to illustrate the GOP’s diversity, has made Florida Sen. Marco Rubio the de-facto leader of the party, almost guaranteed a spot on the 2016 presidential ticket. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus meets regularly with key minority leaders, and Rand Paul, a potential 2016 GOP candidate, has made appearances at historically black colleges, including Howard University.
On the other hand, Texas Gov. Rick Perry not only pushed for a controversial abortion bill, but infuriated Democratic women by personalizing the issue, highlighting the fact that Texas state senator Wendy Davis is a single mother and so was Davis’ mother. Some key voices in the GOP speak openly about winning future elections simply by dominating the white vote. The party’s recent moves on Capitol Hill suggest it could block both a new version of the Voting Rights Act and immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, two decisions unlikely to be embraced by black and Hispanic leaders.
Eight months after President Obama easily won reelection, and four months after the RNC released a report calling for a broad overall of the party to appeal to non-white males, it remains unclear if a broad “Republican re-brand’ has taken hold, and if the party is on the path to appealing to more parts of the electorate.
“We are making very positive steps,” said Sean Spicer, the RNC’s communications director, who pointed to events the GOP has held to recruit more female candidates and other moves.
In truth, it’s very hard to determine what, if any, impact decisions Republicans make in 2013 will influence the 2016 presidential campaign. Democrats spent from more than a decade, from 1980 to 1992, recalibrating their party’s views before winning a presidential election. But in 2005, Democrats were casting about for strategies to win more gun-owning and religious voters, not realizing a demographic shift in the electorate and a collapse of the Republican Party would lead towards Obama’s easy win in 2008.
At first glance, the Republican Party is doing little to expand its base. The GOP is not an organized group with a central leader, but instead a combination of individual actors with strong incentives to cater to the party’s base so they can stay in office or win higher offices. So particularly in state legislatures and governor’s offices, Republicans are pushing voter ID laws, limits on abortion and spending cuts that unlikely to help the GO appeal to minorities or even centrist white voters.
Republicans in Washington were particularly displeased by Perry’s comments about Davis and when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said recently one of the problems for improving American education is “the mom is in the work place.”
But there are also signs of a party that does want to reach new voters. While New Jersey’s Cory Booker, who could become the only black Democrat in the U.S. Senate, is facing three primary challengers and sharp criticism from party activists across the country, Republicans have effectively cleared the field to ensure Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina wins a full-term in 2014 and remains a black Republican voice in the Senate.
While most Republicans oppose creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, Rubio, Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush, perhaps the party’s top three presidential hopefuls, are more supportive of such a provision and could run on that idea in 2016. Most Republicans still officially oppose gay marriage, but try to avoid discussing the issue and risk turning off young voters.
For now, the most appropriate grade to give the Republican re-brand is an incomplete.