We've seen all the stories about how the GOP must change, or what they must or must not say, and all the rest, but the truth is, the Republican Party has a bigger problem on its hands than a damaged brand, and I doubt they can fix it.
And that problem is...the phenomenon of numbing.
(I love me some Marshal McLuhan, what can I say?)
When I attended college, circa 1980, I majored in Communications/Media, with a specialty in Journalism and Technical Writing (you'd think a program with a clear writing focus would have a better title, but oh well).
My favorite media philosopher was, and remains, one Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian researcher and part-time actor...or one-time actor, perhaps, but in the best Woody Allen scene ever filmed. I've used McLuhan's understanding of "hot" and "cold" media throughout my career; it is why I believe that video games have such a vast communication potential, as they can slide very far along that scale of hot and cold, demanding passivity or incredible participation from the player. Understanding such participation is paramount int he way I construct my books, as well - I want you breathless at the end of a battle scene!
Another of McLuhan's concepts that I have come to see as quite obvious is that of "numbing" - "An extension appears to be an amplification of an organ, a sense or a function, that inspires the central nervous system to a self-protective gesture of numbing of the extended area, at least so far as direct inspection and awareness are concerned."
Simply put, when Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind" declared, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," it was shocking. People jumped up and left the theaters, from what I've heard (no, I'm not quite that old).
From that day forward, however, the word "damn" had lost a bit of its effect, and of course other words soon followed the same course. Witness George Carlin's "7 dirty words you can't say on television." Again, shocking for it's time, but now, not so much.
This same phenomenon of desensitization is true of today's GOP. Think of it as the evolution of horror movies - I remember having my kids watch "Jaws." The parts that terrified a 17-year old me...well, my kids laughed. As special effects came into play more powerfully, the movies numbed the audience bit-by-bit and so, in order to continue their needed "shock" value and effect, the horror films had to become more and more graphic and gruesome. I wasn't even aware of how far out they had gone (my wife won't do horror movies) until one night, home alone, my wife out of town, I flipped through the pay stations and landed on a movie called "Hostel."
A half-hour later, I was thoroughly disgusted and grossed out and could not begin to imagine a movie like that as entertainment.
Because, you see, I hadn't been desensitized to the level necessary to actually watch, let alone enjoy, that type of horror movie.
And that is today's conservative party. Newt Gingrich was "shocking" on Crossfire in 1992, calling Democrats "evil" and saying you couldn't bargain with them for that reason. But to continue that schtick, the conservative talking heads had to walk the same path as horror movies, becoming more and more outrageous with each Coulter book, or even with each new crop of elected representatives.
I remember sitting at my Mother's bedside at a nursing home - she was recovering from hip surgery and was in a room with a lovely woman who had broken her elbow. That woman's family was in one night, watching a show that I found hilarious - I actually started laughing out loud, thinking it was SNL or some new incarnation of Monty Python, and it wasn't until I looked from the screen, where some complete fool was scribbling nonsense on a chalkboard (yeah, it was Glenn Beck) to the faces of the gathered family that I realized this wasn't a parody, and that they actually bought into this garbage!
You can't take a person off the street and show him or her Beck at work and get a reaction other than incredulity. You can't go from zero to batshit with most people without the months and years of desensitizing required to get there. These devout followers had to be led to this far-out, the way horror movie audiences were led to "Hostel." Book by book, episode by episode, the Hannitys and the Coulters, the Severens and the Savages and the Malkins have driven themselves and their audiences to a place so removed from reality that...well, you see the reaction to this last election.
The good news is that they can't replace those finally falling away from the propaganda, or just dying off. They are too far out on the limb now, too outrageous, too wrapped up in hate and conspiracy theories and easily refuted untruths, to tease in a new audience. Theirs is a network of diminishing returns. The hard-core uncle who shows up at family gatherings spouts such venom and nonsense now that the nephews and nieces can only roll their eyes.
And that's the problem of the current Republican Party. Numbness...their own and their inability to bring in new recruits in any sizable number.
An immigration bill won't fix it. Saying kind (condescending) words to women won't fix it. They are the right-wing noise machine now, whether they like it or not, and that network, because of its need to fuel hatred, to poke the bear with every diatribe, moves inexorably further from acceptable conversation.
If the American mainstream, that vast LEFT-of-center group, stays engaged, soon after 2016, we may finally be able to look at people like Murdoch and Ailes and Hannity and say with complete confidence, "Good riddance."