When Smiling Just Won’t Cut It

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus

Eight days ago, President Obama delivered a powerful inaugural speech, one that left many liberals optimistic that his new term would be more progressive than his last. Five days ago, Timothy Geithner ended his tenure as the Treasury Secretary. While his legacy, like that of the President he served, will be decided by future historians, it is indisputable he has left a stronger economy than the one he inherited. One day ago, a group of eight Senators, several of whom are rumored to harbor presidential aspirations, outlined a sweeping proposal to reform a broken system.

Yup, politics moves fast in America.

Yet surprisingly, one story hasn’t gotten much coverage: Last Friday, the Republican National Committee wrapped up its three-day meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.

On its face, this isn’t a particularly exciting story. This RNC didn’t feature a presidential nomination, tens of thousands didn’t throng to the event, and — sadly — no unoccupied chairs were made into scapegoats on national TV.

Nonetheless, it’s a big deal for domestic politics and the future for the Republican Party. The RNC plays an essential behind-the-scenes role in GOP politics, helping to orchestrate the party’s platform, message and strategy. And it’s here that leading Republicans are discussing and diagnosing exactly what went wrong this past November. President Obama faced the electorate with a starkly divided country and a still-poor economy. Yet Obama didn’t only win; he did so convincingly.

Unfortunately for most moderate Republicans, this is a party very much still in denial.

Reince Priebus, the incumbent chair of the RNC, ran for reelection unopposed, despite having chaired the GOP during a period rife with mismanagement and poor decisions. The Party’s swing to the right, which has claimed distinguished senators such as Dick Lugar, has allowed Democrats to keep Senate seats in ruby-red states like Indiana. The minority vote was instrumental in delivering the White House to Obama — and it’s a reason why culturally conservative states like Texas and Arizona are increasingly eyed by Democratic strategists as viable future battlegrounds.

Yet to most of the Republicans that met in North Carolina, it’s not their policies that are repelling minorities, but their marketing. Perhaps that’s true, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath. This is, of course, the same message Paul Ryan used last year to defend his budget plan: it’s not unpopular, it’s miscommunicated.

There are some brave politicians who are fighting to reshape the party, including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. His speech to the RNC was widely praised for its thoughtfulness and creativity. But in a party that thinks Priebus is doing an admirable job, Jindal has his work cut out for him.

During this four-day strategy session, one big message was “adopting a more positive message – and smiling! – when interacting with voters and reporters.”

This, however, is not a message worthy of the Grand Old Party. And if it can’t stop its move toward the extreme right fringes, the GOP will soon not be worthy of representing roughly half of the country.


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