Posts Tagged ‘republican presidential hopefuls’
What is a “brand”?
A “brand” is a product or service or organization which has values, qualities or traits deeply associated with it. It is the “identity” of a product, service or organization, and it is reinforced by “differentiators”: those things which set the brand apart from its competitors. When you buy Coke rather than the generic alternative (and typically pay far more in the process), you do so perhaps because you prefer Coke’s taste (a trait) or (more often) because Coke’s marketing efforts have associated with their product values you favor or relate to. When you buy Pepsi instead of Coke, maybe you like Pepsi’s taste, or maybe you identify with Pepsi’s efforts to position their product as “younger”. At root, however, “brand” is a function of trust: when you buy a Coke, you trust it will consistently deliver whatever it is you’ve come to expect. Whether you are in Hong Kong or London or San Francisco, when you order a hamburger at a McDonalds, you trust it will taste the same and deliver the same experience. Being true to the brand promise is of extreme importance: if the burger you ordered at any particular McDonalds was completely different than the burger at any other McDonalds, or if each can of Coke tasted differently, the brand would instantly become meaningless: the brand promise betrayed, there is no longer any reason for you to pick the brand over a competitor.
What does the idea of a “brand” mean in the context of the Republican Party? And how’s the health of the Republican Party’s “brand”?
The Republican Party likes to brand itself as the party of small government, fiscal prudence, a free market and liberty. Their brand promise is lower government spending, less governmental intrusion into the lives of Americans, safety and the ability to transact business with limited governmental constraints, and minimal direct governmental participation in the economy.
How has the GOP performed on its brand promise? Are the party’s differentiators meaningful to their customers, the Amercian electorate? The answers, in short, are: poorly and no.
Many voters today see little difference between the Republican and Democratic parties: independent voters are now the largest segment of the electorate, and the fastest growing. Republican George W Bush, of the ostensibly “small government” party, increased government spending substantially: the rate of non-defense discretionary spending growth during the first term of his Presidency was over 3,500% greater than it was under President Clinton’s first term, and over 230% higher than President Carter. This was in following his father’s footsteps: George HW Bush increased spending over 6,800% faster than President Reagan. When it comes to “small government” and fiscal prudence, the Republican Party has lost, entirely, any ability to differentiate from the Democrats: for the period 1988 – 2004, Bush 43 (a Republican) grew government spending the fastest, followed by Clinton’s (a Democrat) second term, then Bush 42 (a Republican), and finally Clinton’s (a Democrat) first term. Going back a bit farther, President Nixon increased spending at a rate five times faster than President Carter did. There is no difference between the parties, and this undermines the Republican brand significantly (it doesn’t damage the Democrats nearly as much, as their branding has not often made fiscal prudence a brand promise).
On the issue of liberty and freedom, there is likewise little to differentiate the party brands: President George W Bush substantially reduced individual freedom by way of (among other things) authorizing warrantless wiretaps of citizens of the United States and effectively eliminated habeus corpus protection; President Obama (among other things) granted retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who went along with these wiretaps, and subsequently extended his interpretation of a President’s powers to include the assissination of United States’ citizens without charge, trial or conviction. A Republican and a Democrat, with little to distinguish their stances on personal freedom and liberty.
In more recent times, the Republican party has also come to be the home of the “social conservatives”: that part of the electorate most pre-occupied with issues such as abortion, gay marriage and “Christian values”, and often identified as the “religious right”. This segment of the party has significantly diluted the Republican brand, and in focusing on “social conservative” issues, has dimished the core differentiators of the Republican brand we mentioned earlier: small government, fiscal prudence, a free market and liberty. And while 78% of those Republicans aged fifty-eight or older described themselves as “social conservatives”, 46% of Republicans aged eighteen to thirty-seven describe themselves as “social moderates”. The “social conservative” aspect of the Republican brand is a losing proposition for the party in the medium to long term.
The rapid growth and substantial number of independent voters is the consequence of the parties’ diluted brands: if Coke and Pepsi and the no-name brand all taste exactly the same and are the same price, what compelling reason beyond inertia is there to make a person pick Coke over Pepsi, or Pepsi over Coke, or either over the no-name brand? This is where the GOP finds itself in 2012. And things are going to get much worse for the Republican Party establishment: the younger the voter, the less likely that voter is to be a member of the Republican Party. 37% of the party’s members are fifty-eight or older, and 24% are between forty-eight and fifty-seven, but only 14%-15% of members are between the ages of twenty-eight and forty-seven, and just 6% are between eighteen and twenty-seven. The party is aging, and new voters do not find the brand compelling.
The conventional thinking is that the Republican Party is for people who have stuff (which they don’t want the government to take away), and the Democratic Party is for people who don’t have stuff (and want the government to give them stuff), and as people get stuff, they shift to the Republican Party. But that thinking is deeply flawed: the current generation of voters aged eighteen to twenty-seven have stuff, and they’re not joining the Republican fold (in 2008, 58% of voters aged eighteen to twenty-nine were either Democrats or leaned Democrat, while only 33% of that age group were, or leaned, Republican, a downward trend that has continued uninterrupted since at least 1992, when Republicans had a 47% to 46% edge in this age group).
The Republican Party has repeatedly betrayed its brand promise, and the party no longer has the core differentiators it once did. As such, it does not have a meaningful sales pitch for new customers – those people reaching voting age. The party’s brand has become “New Coke”.
What can the Republican Party do to reverse this slide and rebuild the party’s brand? And are they doing it?
Almost all the candidates currently competing for the Republican Presidential nomination are running on a platform based not upon the core Republican brand, but on relatively recent changes to that brand, which coincide with the dilution of party support among new voters – the “New Coke” of the Republican Party: social conservatism, military interventionism and big government. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is considered “conservative” because he is staunchly “pro-life” and wants to bomb Iran (while his history in office shows him indistinguishable from a Democrat when it comes to the “Classic Coke” version of the Republican Party: he voted in favor of increasing the debt ceiling, consistently voted in favor of earmarks, backed Arlen Spector in his run for Presidential nominee of the Republican Party (Spector, a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-gun rights and pro-affirmative action candidate, subsequently switched sides, becoming a Democrat in 2009), does not believe United States citizens enjoy privacy protection under the Constitution, and believes the government should involve itself in private enterprise by picking certain sectors for special treatment (Mr Santorum would like to eliminate the corporate tax on manufacturers, and only manufacturers)). Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney implemented a government health care program while Governor, increased state spending by over 32% in four years and, in an effort to appeal to the “New Coke” Republican brand, switched from “pro-choice” to “pro-life”. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, believes the federal government should be responsible for finanically assisting citizens’ home purchases, has signed a “New Coke” document entitled a “Pledge of Fidelity” promising not to cheat on his current wife, and wants to remove more personal freedoms by strengthening the Patriot Act. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who increased spending over 82% in Texas, focuses on the “war on religion” the federal government is supposedly waging. These candidates all believe that “New Coke” is a winning formula, and they are doubling-down on it. And this lack of differentiation has resulted in a fractured field: no candidate received more than 25% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.
The lone candidate seeking to rebrand the Republican Party, to bring back “Classic Coke”, is Texas Representative Ron Paul: he proposes cutting government spending by one trillion dollars in the first year, eliminating five federal departments, increasing personal liberties by doing away with things such as the Patriot Act and permitting states to decide issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Mr Paul’s foreign policy, which calls for non-interventionism and only Congressionally-authorized wars, is materially different from the Democrats and every other candidate. And that rebranding, that original formula, is resonating with customers: in the Iowa caucuses, 48% of caucus goers aged seventeen to twenty-nine voted for Mr Paul, as did 43% of independents. These are the very customers the Republican Party desperately needs in the years and decades ahead.
For those efforts to rebrand the Republican Party, Ron Paul has been alternately ignored or reviled. The Republican Party doggedly insists that “New Coke” is the winning formula, and any suggestions that “Classic Coke” should be reintroduced is met with open hostility. Mr Paul has been called “dangerous” and more recently “disgusting” by his fellow Republican, Rick Santorum. Mr Paul’s foreign policy is dismissed out of hand: a non-interventionist defense policy is not even permitted debate. But as we’ve seen already, independents are the largest share of the electorate, and they are demonstrating a genuine taste for “Classic Coke”. And in hypothetical match ups against President Obama, Mr Paul’s “Classic Coke” matches Mitt Romney’s chances for victory in a general election.
The Republican Party establishment ignores this erosion of its brand at its peril: with nearly twice as many young people leaning Democrat rather than Republican, and with independent voters the deciding factor in general elections, “New Coke” is a strategy for failure. The Republican Party’s brand is materially and demonstrably diluted, and the party is going to need to engage in a serious rebranding exercise, building meaningful differentiators and building trust with new customers. Those customers are waiting, and they seem to have a thirst for “Classic Coke”.
Just in time for the weekend, an…
Ode to the Establishment Three:
Mr Establishment one…I mean Perry
His spending record is pretty damn scary
Lifetime in politics should keep voters wary
He’s no Mr Reagan – more like Mr Kerry!
Plummeting poll numbers just ain’t so nice
But fat cat donors from Texas add spice
If I could give poor little Ricky advice
I’d suggest that he really should have thought twice
About running a race way in over his head
Should have stayed in his kingdom in Texas instead
Where his cronies were keeping him rather well fed
Guess all the backslapping went to his head!
‘Cause keeping positions consistent and straight
For ninety minutes of a TV debate
Ain’t so easy for this candidate
Harder to fool all the folks out of state!
Mr Establishment two…I mean Romney
Can’t get the polls much above a low twenty
Ain’t looking like “President” is his destiny
Hell, they’re calling again for Pawlenty!
Poor poor Mitt can’t get here from there
Really too bad – he’s got slickness to spare!
Bad timing, I guess – these days voters they care
About Mitt’s heavy spending and ObamneyCare
Twenty-three twenty-three twenty-three twenty-three
Polls keep repeating what Mitt doesn’t want to see
Cain goes up more and down there goes Perry
But Mitt’s twenty-three is the only consistency
It’s a real shame ’cause he seems like a good guy
But Mitt’s selling stuff that the people just won’t buy
At least you can say that you gave it a good try
There’s twenty sixteen and you’re still young and spry!
Mr Establishment three would be Cain
Former Fed banker came in from the rain
Tries to come off as just simple and plain
But that former lobbyist is at it again
Old big tobacco used to help pay the bills
Now Cain’s got a smoking guy as one of his shills
Goofy campaign ads don’t give us the thrills
And the “Cain Tax” (read: sales tax) makes us run for the hills!
“Harassment! Harassment!” old co-workers say
“He done me wrong, back in the day!”
“I don’t remember, but yes we did pay”
But somehow the story just won’t go away
But maybe, just maybe the story will pass
With hands in your pockets and not on a…lass
Hard to appear like you have so much class
When lawyers on TV keeping shouting “harass!”
Deep in the status quo these fellows three
Shouting in unison “Please vote for me!”
“I’m the true ‘outsider’, yes honestly!”
“But please, oh please, don’t look so closely!”
Because what you’ll see is the same tired dance:
Establishment figures who hope you’re entranced
By promises that won’t withstand second glance
Designed to fit nicely in all circumstance
Tonight’s GOP debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, between hopefuls for the GOP Presidential nomination featured lots of fireworks, stumbles by some candidates (most notably Governor Rick Perry, but Newt Gingrich too) and some significant differences on policy positions. Here’s an overview of how the candidates fared:
Texas Governor Rick Perry has had a rough time in prior debates, and has seen his standing in the polls plummet rather dramatically, from an early, substantial lead, to currently out of the top three. Mr Perry needed a strong performance in this debate.
He didn’t produce it. In fact, his performance was so poor, the Las Vegas crowd booed him on several occasions. Mr Perry, it seems, has decided to focus on two things: answer as many questions as possible by working in the term “energy independence” (regardless of whether energy in any way relates to the question at hand), and attempt to attack former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
On this second point, Mr Perry adopted a strange strategy: clearly weakened by revelations in prior debates that, as Governor of Texas, he instituted a program whereby illegal aliens are subsidized by the state for post-secondary education (an illegal alien studying in Texas pays less than a visiting student from, for example, California or Illinois, with up to $100,000 less being the figure commonly quoted by Mr Perry’s adversaries), Governor Perry decided to level an allegation against Mr Romney that Mr Romney had previously knowingly hired illegal aliens and continued to employ them after learning of their status. This was not only effectively swatted aside by Mr Romney (as he explained it, a company he hired to tend to his lawn maintenance happened to employ an illegal alien, and fired that individual after Mr Romney objected, but subsequently hired another illegal alien), it allowed Mr Romney to make a point about his own plan for an electronic system which would permit employers to identify the legal employability status of employees.
On multiple occasions, Governor Perry repeatedly interrupted Mr Romney during Mr Romney’s answers, so much so that the crowd began to boo. Mr Romney effectively put Mr Perry in his place by suggesting that, as President of the United States, he would have to occasionally listen to other people without interrupting. And jarringly, Rick Perry repeatedly referred to Herman Cain as “brother”, which he did not do to any of the white candidates.
Mr Perry also suggested withdrawing United States support for the United Nations in its entirety. And Rick Santorum accused Governor Perry of writing a letter to Congress on the day of the TARP vote urging Congress to act (Mr Perry’s rebuttal was that his letter urged them to do “something”, but not what they did).
Governor Perry had a very poor outing, and it’s hard to imagine a scenrio whereby he recaptures the lead in the polls, or comes anywhere close to the Republican nomination. In each debate, Mr Perry has seemed vastly out of his depth, and increasingly relies upon repeating that his state has created the most jobs (notably absent from his claims, and not mentioned by the other candidates, is the fact that an awful lot of those jobs were in the state government: Governor Perry has increased spending 81.94% since he took office, as we previously reported in our article, “Perry vs Romney: Both Big Spenders, History Shows…“). It will be interesting to see how long Mr Perry remains in the race, given how poorly he has been performing, both on stage and in the polls, and it’s further hard to envision Governor Perry beating even the weakened President Obama. Mr Perry’s confidence and charisma have vanished; unfortunately it does not appear that leaves him with much to trade on in this race.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had a generally steady night. Attacked early for his Massachusetts health care plan, and for prior suggestions that he considered such a program suitable for the entire country, Mr Romney fired back by proclaiming that the Massachusetts plan is right for the state but not right for the nation, and backed it up, as he has in the past, by pointing out that the citizens of Massachusetts favor his health care plan by a three to one margin. It’s an odd and difficult argument to make, because Mr Romney is essentially arguing that the merit of such a plan is a function of its scale: it’s okay at the state level but not okay (and, he claims, unconstitutional) at the federal level.
Governor Romney managed to very effectively silence Newt Gingrich by claiming Mr Romney’s plan took the idea for an individual mandate directly from Mr Gingrich. Mr Gingrich vehemently denied the charge, before admitting on a direct question from Mr Romney that he had indeed spoken out in favor of an individual mandate.
When Mr Perry attempted to cast Mr Romney as a “flip flopper”, Mr Romney responded by pointing out that Mr Perry previously chaired Al Gore’s Presidential bid against George W Bush.
Mr Romney’s strategy of avoiding specifics and masterfully directing many of his answers into, essentially, “This country needs jobs and I’ll give them to you!” played well: his style is so smooth that, unless listening closely, it’s easy to miss that he doesn’t actually say very much on any topic.
Texas Representative Ron Paul had another strong showing: here is a candidate who doesn’t need to pause and calibrate his message into what a candidate is “supposed to say” – his positions are logically consistent (Governor Perry, on the other hand, appears as though he has had too many aides providing too many “positions” on too many topics, to the point at which they have overcome his ability to memorize his supposed positions).
Ron Paul scored with the audience when moderator Anderson Cooper listed off the federal departments Mr Paul would shut down: Housing and Urban Development, Education, Energy, etc. On the question of foreign aid, Dr Paul simply stated he would cut all foreign aid, and at one point had both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry telling the audience they agreed with Mr Paul. His message that foreign aid amounts to taking money from poor Americans and giving that money to rich people in poor countries resonated with the crowd, as did his message about bailouts, the economic bubbles and the inability of the federal government to “manage much of anything”.
On the issue of whether he is in favor of the federal government storing spent nuclear contamination in Nevada, Ron Paul suggested it is inappropriate for the federal government to forcibly dump the garbage of forty-nine states on one of the states, said he considers it a state issue, and mentioned that, at one point, he was one of three members of the House to vote against the measure, the other two being representatives of Nevada.
Perhaps the most striking contrast of the evening came between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul on the issue of cutting defense spending: Mr Santorum (clearly a hawk, who previously stated he would like to “go to war with China” but probably meant he would welcome a trade war with the Chinese) said he would not cut one penny of defense spending. Ron Paul, on the other hand, pointed out that the United States maintains bases in 150 foreign countries and that it was time to bring the troops home.
Former Godfathers Pizza CEO, and Chairman of the Kentucky Federal Reserve, Herman Cain has seen his fortunes shoot skyward after strong prior debate performances. His “9-9-9” tax plan was a focus of much of the early part of the debate, as Mr Cain’s new found status as front runner in some polls served to increase the scrutiny of his proposals.
Criticism of his tax proposal centred on the sales tax portion of his 9-9-9 plan: a 9% sales tax on all retail sales. Michele Backmann, a former tax attorney, repeatedly referred to it as a value added tax (the difference between a sales tax and a value added tax is that, with a value added tax, each step a product goes through on its way to market is taxed on the difference between the input cost and the sale price – the “value added” is taxed), while Mr Cain explained it was not a value added tax. Mr Romney asked if this sales tax would apply in addition to state sales taxes, which Mr Cain attempted to deflect as comparing “apples to oranges”. Mitt Romney replied, “And I’ll have to get a bushel to hold all the apples and oranges”.
As a former central banker, Mr Cain argues that he was in favor of the bank (and other) bailouts, but not how they were applied. That’s a message that is unlikely to resonate with many Republicans (or independents, or Democrats, or anyone who isn’t a current or former banker or other of the “bailed out”).
Other candidates argued that it would never pass (Newt Gingrich), that the people will not accept a sales tax (Rick Santorum) and that it will inevitably rise (Ron Paul; Michele Backmann). Herman Cain, meanwhile, argued that it would eliminate all the invisible taxes while simplifying the tax code.
Moderator Coooper quoted a statement Mr Cain had previously made in which he suggested that if people weren’t employed and weren’t rich, they should blame themselves, which caused much of the audience to applaud. Mr Cain said he stood by the statement. On the question of the current “Occupy Wall Street” protests, Herman Cain suggested the protesters’ anger was misplaced, as the government was to blame for the financial downturn and not Wall Street. Ron Paul suggested Mr Cain was blaming the “victims”, in reference to the unemployed, while the government people in charge of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as Wall Street participants, had yet to be held accountable.
On issues not related to his tax plan, Mr Cain seemed less confident and more as though he had been coached, and his answers to issues such as defense and immigration were far less compelling than his answers on matters economic.
Senator Michele Backmann had a generally strong performance, leveling several effective attacks on other candidates. Her positions on foreign policy were particularly strongly articulated, attacking Iran for their nuclear program as well as the purported assassination plot against a Saudi dipomat on United States soil. Mrs Backmann also came out heavily in favor of continued financial aid to Israel, “our closest ally” (the question of foreign aid to Israel drew strong contrasts between Michele Backmann and Ron Paul: Mr Paul argued in favor of withdrawing all aid to Israel).
Towards the end of the debate, on a question about the federal government’s role in housing, in light of the high number of foreclosures, Mrs Backmann made what seemed like an odd appeal to the “mothers out there”, and seemed near tears. It came across as a blatant appeal to female voters, and further, did not seem to resonate with the audience in the way Mrs Backmann no doubt intended it to.
However, Michele Backmann is a strong debater, and continued to find ways to insert herself into the conversation.
Essentially out of money and consistently polling in the single digits, former Pennsylvania Governor Rick Santorum started the night with an appeal to family values, and carried that theme on later in the debate, suggesting that “liberty” is founded upon families (at which point Ron Paul interjected, stating “I don’t think liberty comes in bunches”).
Mr Santorum, who often seems visibly pained by anything less than full militaristic support from the other candidates, attempted to insert himself into the debate with a spirited attack on former Governor Romney, attacking Mr Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan. He also successfully attacked Rick Perry’s support of the TARP bailout (see above).
Toward the end, Mr Santorum pointed to his record of having won as Governor of Pennsylvania, a swing state, stating that, “If we win Pennsylvania, we win the election!”
Given his lacklustre financial support and poor showing in the polls, expect Mr Santorum to drop out of the race after Iowa, at the latest.
Former Governor of Utah and Obama Chinese Ambassador Rick Huntsman did not participate in the debate, ostensibly in order to boycott Nevada (which has changed the date of its primary to January 14th, in violation of GOP rules), but more probably because his campaign is in severe financial difficulty. Expect Mr Huntsman to withdraw from the race soon – after New Hampshire at the latest.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, the leading GOP contender for the Presidential nomination in 2012, is a particularly odd choice for Republicans and Tea Party advocates alike. Polls consistently show him atop the pack of contenders for the GOP nomination, however there are a significant number of reasons his consideration as a Presidential nominee, as well as his standing in the polls, comes as a surprise.
- Mr Perry used to be a Democrat, until he concluded the path to power in Texas is paved with Republican pavement;
- Rick Perry is a career politician. He has been in various offices since 1984, when he was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives as the Democratic representative of District 64 (he switched sides in 1989). Career politicians are not looked upon favorably by Tea Pary supporters, or Constitutionalist;
- Mr Perry’s use of executive order to attempt to force state-ordered vaccinations on eleven year-old girls in Texas violates two concepts Tea Partiers, and libertarians, hold dear: the order was passed (and later reversed by the Texas legislature) without being put to a vote of the people’s representatives, while at the same time representing a shocking intrusion by government into people’s lives by requiring parents to actively opt out of the forced vaccination program. The notion of an individual (in this case the Governor) ordering injections of children without debate or a vote is rather shocking. Mr Perry now considers this a “mistake”;
- Mr Perry’s policy of granting discounts on taxpayer provided education to illegal aliens in the state of Texas is anathema to most Republicans (and to taxpayer advocates as well);
- Governor Perry has increased taxes multiple times in Texas. He voted for a $5.7 billion tax increase proposal, and refused to pledge not to increase taxes, a pledge which, notably, his Democratic opponent in the 2002 contest for Governor of Texas made;
- Mr Perry not only supported Al Gore in 1988, he was the chairman of Mr Gore’s Texas campaign committee. It is difficult, for a whole host of reasons, to imagine Republicans embracing the chairman of Mr Gore’s Presidential committee as their nominee for President of the United States;
- “Crony capitalism”, the latest buzzword of Republican Presidentail hopefuls, can be seen throughout Mr Perry’s tenure in politics: trading prominent appointed positions for campaign contributions has been a hallmark of the Governor’s strategy while in office.
- While Governor of Texas, state spending grew 30.6% under Mr Perry’s leadership, after adjusting for population growth and inflation.
Some interesting developments on the campaign trail indeed: in the Georgia GOP straw poll of Presidential hopfefuls, some media-annointed heavyweights fared very poorly, while the candidate the media loves to ignore, Ron Paul, again finished within a percentage point of winning the poll, narrowly losing to straw poll winner Herman Cain, who captured 26% of votes against 25.7% for Dr Paul (see our article, “Is Ron Paul Getting a Fair Shake From the Media? Watching the Watchers…” for our analysis of media coverage granted Mr Paul relative to the other candidates and also relative to his showing in the Iowa straw poll). Notably, Herman Cain is a native of Georgia, giving him the home town advantage (Mr Cain received 8% of the vote in the Iowa straw poll, against 27% for Ron Paul).
Candidate Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, who is widely considered to be the eventual GOP Presidential candidate (even among Obama’s staff), finished with just 6% of the straw poll votes. Michele Bachmann, whom Fox News described as having “cemented her top-tier position” after the Iowa straw poll, finished with just 3%. Rick Perry, the former Texas Governor who officially announced his candidacy the day of the Iowa straw poll, finished 5.7 percentage points (or over 22%) behind Dr Paul.
It will be interesting to see the reaction from media outlets to Ron Paul’s latest strong showing (notably, he also polls neck-and-neck with Obama). We’ll be tracking media coverage of this result as part of our ongoing series monitoring the even-handedness of US political coverage.