Rocky reboot for GOP

Reset. Rebrand. Reframe. Reposition. Renew. Call it what you want, Republicans are exhausted.

It has been three months since the bruising election of 2012, when political rehabilitation began anew for the GOP. After wandering the wilderness for a few years then winning a historic House majority in 2010, another makeover wasn’t exactly what the party had in mind. With the White House in their sights but out of reach until they overcome certain demographic liabilities, Republicans are searching once again.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) mounted the most conspicuous public relations effort yet with a major speech this week, defending GOP principles as those best suited for opportunity and economic growth for the middle class. Not much new there, but it was wrapped in soothing aspirational calls for the fulfillment of dreams in a speech Cantor titled “Making Life Work.” Similarly, newly reelected Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has told the Republicans they need to be the “happy party.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was more direct: Republicans need to stop being the “stupid party,” he said. And GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway has instructed House Republicans to stop talking about rape.

Meanwhile, the proverbial recriminations of any group reflection abound. Conservatives are furious at Karl Rove, who is behind the new Conservative Victory Project political action committee, which isn’t conservative enough. Rove, in attempting to block terrible conservative candidates who can’t win elections, is now the Tea Party’s latest pariah. Name the group and they are outraged, poised to fight back against Rove and the big donors who want greater say in GOP primary outcomes. “The days of conservatives listening to the moderate GOP establishment are over,” scoffed Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica. 

Controversial Rep. Steve King (R), mulling a Senate bid in Iowa, a battleground President Obama won in 2008 and 2012, is one of those worrisome candidates. Bitterness among establishment figures like Rove over the failure of Tea Party-backed conservatives like Richard Mourdock in Indiana and former Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri to win their races in 2012 still lingers from 2010, when the GOP fell short of a majority in the Senate because Tea Party candidates Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado all lost their races.  

Moving past talk of budget cuts, the party is now riven by the fight over immigration reform and whether it will save the party or sink it for good. It has turned Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Tea Party insurgent who crushed establishment Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in their Senate primary in 2010, into an establishment wimp supporting amnesty. Just ask the editors at the National Review. But standing with him are Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who have concluded that the party can’t win a national coalition for the presidency if burgeoning Hispanic populations turn red states like Texas and Arizona blue. 

But getting their fellow Republican critics on board — or at least quiet — has been complicated. This week freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) sent out a fundraising appeal declaring reform efforts “a shameless political ploy to buy new voters.” That’s not exactly on the talking points pro-reformers like those at the Hispanic Leadership Network had sent GOP members suggesting they say “undocumented workers” instead of “aliens” and “illegals.”

Bentivolio won’t be the last to say what many conservatives think; they’re not stupid, definitely not happy, and not “making life work” for the GOP leaders hard at work on the Republican reboot.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.