The GOP's image problem

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Any lingering doubt Republicans have a big-time image problem was removed by a poll conducted for The Hill newspaper this week.

By a nearly a 2-1 margin (55 percent to 28 percent), respondents preferred the budget proposed by House Republicans over that proposed by Senate Democrats.

Even 40 percent of the Democrats among the 1,000 likely voters surveyed think deficits should be trimmed mostly by cutting spending rather than by raising taxes.

But support for the Republican budget collapsed when respondents were told it was Republicans who proposed it. A plurality (35 percent) said they trusted Democrats more on budget issues. Only 30 percent said they trusted Republicans more.

The GOP's image problem is especially acute among younger voters. In November, voters over 30 preferred Republican Mitt Romney to President Barack Obama by 1.8 million votes. But the president won by 5 million votes among Americans aged 30 and under.

Focus groups described Republicans as "narrow-minded, out of touch, stuffy old men," according to a "postmortem" on the 2012 election issued this week by the Republican National Committee.

The fundamental sources of the GOP's image problem are easy to discern. Most in the bigfoot media lie constantly about them and their ideas. So do college professors and public school teachers.

Apart from the incessant propagandizing in the classroom, the dumbing down of our schools has been especially hurtful to Republicans. The innumerate can't comprehend why Republicans fret so about spending and debt.

Republicans compound their problems by the ease with which they permit the news media to manipulate them, and by the zest with which they attack each other.

The most perplexing thing about the 2012 campaign is why GOP presidential candidates permitted journalists who were out to get them to "moderate" debates -- not just with President Obama, but among themselves.

"We need to help pick moderators that we want, and avoid a bunch of gotcha questions from people who aren't our friends," said RNC chairman Reince Priebus.

Well, duh. The amazing thing is there is still reluctance within the party to adopt the debate reforms the RNC proposes. Reluctance comes chiefly from "Establishment" Republicans in Washington D.C., who conservatives in the hinterland suspect are too comfortable with big government, too timid to take on the prevailing liberal orthodoxy.

Conservative suspicions are mostly correct. Republicans tend to do better when their candidates offer more of a choice than an echo.

But the Establishment "squishes" have legitimate beefs, too. The frequently strident rhetoric of some Tea Party types turns off many voters, the RNC's focus groups confirmed. Conservative insurgents lost Senate seats in Nevada, Colorado, Delaware, Missouri and Indiana, the more moderate candidates they beat in the primaries almost certainly would have won.

"The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself," the post-mortem said. "We have become experts in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue."

It's chiefly conservatives who treat disagreement on any issue as betrayal. This was made evident by how many went ballistic because the post-mortem noted, correctly, that younger Americans overwhelmingly support gay marriage, and that GOP opposition to comprehensive immigration reform has caused Hispanics to turn away.

This doesn't mean Republicans would improve their electoral prospects if they adopted liberal positions on these issues, as the post-mortem's authors seemed to imply. It does mean that if Republicans want to win elections, they'd better figure out a way to talk about these issues better -- or at least to talk about them less.

If each faction would recognize the other has a point, and treat it as an ally who is misguided on some particulars, the party would grow. If each treats the other as an enemy to be crushed, the GOP will shrivel.


This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe: Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio., 412-263-1476.


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