There has been a lot of talk about the Republican Brand in the years since the Bush administration. Whether positive or negative, a lot of voices have chimed in about the strength of the party's brand, what its message is, its viability, and its best way forward.

In his book Brand Risk, David Abrahams identifies two contributing factors to successful brand identity: exclusivity and consistency. Having exclusive ownership of your brand identity means that no competing brand can claim to have the unique characteristics that your brand has. Consistency of your brand means that this identity does not change in major ways.

Over the years the Republicans have been very disciplined about staying on message and have often used identical talking points in interviews. Their ideology was clear, concise and consistent and they often mopped the floor with the democrats, who by contrast appeared riddled with conflicting messages and competing factions including a fairly sizable number who could be counted on to vote against their own base. The Democrats have, through all these inner rumblings, adopted a willingness (or a defeated acceptance?) of compromise with each other and with republicans that knows almost no bounds.

An orthodox position like the conservative platform of the Republicans works best when it has an orthodox enemy whose ideology is equally uncompromising. Communism worked extremely well as an enemy for example, providing a rallying point for the republicans when they needed it most. Religious terrorism has perhaps been even more powerful. When the differences between two sides are this clear, the arguments in favor of Republicans are almost unbeatable. Who better to side with than the good guys who see things clearly in terms of a battle between right and wrong, good and evil?

It’s when the opposition is full of consensus-driven centrist compromisers that a clear "Us vs. Them" argument becomes harder to win. How do you portray your opposition as Freedom Hating Evil-Doers when they all seem so riddled with self doubt, tangled up in nuance, and half the time end up giving you everything you demanded from them anyway?

(Well, you can lie about their positions of course, but that's only a short term solution and one that silently eats away at the confidence in your product. In the marketplace of ideas, lying might buy you time, but it is not a solution.)

Genuine disagreement is not just important in politics, it basically is politics. It differentiates the philosophical difference between one party and another, otherwise what's the point? But even more for an orthodox party like the Republicans, disagreement is survival itself. It amounts to proprietary control over one's own values. Consensus does nothing but threaten this.

Compromise is kryptonite to an orthodox party because it eliminates the exclusivity of their brand. In order to exist the Republican Party needs to be able to explain to its voters (and donors) what they are getting when they support republicans that they would not get if they supported the democrats.

As testament to the all powerful sense of humor of God in America, it turns out that the philosophizing, Doubtful Democrat, willing to compromise if only as a scientific experiment to test a theory, has struck on the very thing to which the Republicans have no effective defense: Republican policies are only Republican if the Democrats disagree.  

This is why Republicans don’t the take excellent deals offered them by Democrats, and why they walk out of talks even if they’re ahead. It’s also the reason they have lurched so far out to the right that they have found themselves attacking such mainstream American concepts as the Geneva Convention and birth control. With compromise itself as the enemy, Republicans need to be on the other side of a line which the democrats will not cross. And as we have seen, that line is way, way, way out there.

The Compromising Democrats are now so far right themselves they would not be recognized by a time traveler from just a few decades ago.  Democrats now support free trade, individual mandates, warrant-less surveillance and even drone strikes for crying out loud! How could the GOP walk its own radical positions back without sharing territory with their conservative fellows? Not only would this force them to compromise, it would destroy their brand. The GOP is out on an island without the ability to return.

Done in, ironically, by the overly capitulating democrats.

"Will Republicans in Congress be successful at finding a way out of their current mess? Who knows. This year, the most well-funded Republican candidate in history, with the most professional campaign, supported by the most sophisticated super-PACs, proved unable to find a path to victory—even though such a path was eminently findable. Republicans in Congress are equally capable of winding up on the losing side of the equation. So 2012 could end up a lost year for the GOP.

"And 2013? Politics is full of surprises. The Grand Old Party sure seems to be in a grand old mess. But messes can produce moments of opportunity, lemons can be turned into lemonade, and it’s always darkest before the dawn.

"Except when it turns pitch black."

William Kristol, Weekly Standard 12/10/12

"If Republicans continue to be led around by, and live in fear of, a base that denies global warming after Hurricane Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook — a base that would rather see every American’s taxes rise rather than increase taxes on millionaires — the party has no future."

Thomas Friedman, New York Times 12/22/12


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