GOP’s Autopsy: Rebranding, Not Reengineering, Needed

A branding consultant reviews the Republicans' Growth and Opportunity Report
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan smile during a walk-through at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Aug. 30, 2012 Photograph by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Think of the Republican Party as a company with a product that’s not selling. The business might have flawed merchandise, or a stale brand, or a lousy sales operation. To diagnose the problem, executives might summon outside consultants to write a lengthy report and recommend solutions. On Monday a GOP committee released the 100-page Growth and Opportunity Project, billed as “an honest review of the 2012 election cycle and a path forward for the Republican Party to ensure success in winning more elections.”

The campaign autopsy suggests the party thinks its problems are in marketing and sales rather than in its core product. It’s not meant to be a policy document, though like a senior vice president taking a subtle dig at a rival, the report suggests that product development might have some work to do, too: “But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.”

Still, this is all about messaging and tactics, and to that end, it may give the party a good place to start. “I did see quite a bit of the methodology we might use to break down a brand and help rebuild it,” says Josh Feldmeth, chief executive officer of Interbrand New York, a branding consultantcy. “You’ve got to be honest about what’s not working, but you’ve also got to bring some solutions. I think the report does both.”

The document is based on surveys and focus groups that the party says reached more than 52,000 people since December. Many of the report’s points are familiar: You heard them from the lips of any pundit on the air on Nov. 7. Republicans need to embrace immigration reform. They need to quit alienating Hispanics, blacks, Asians, women, young people, and gay people. They need to cut the number of primary debates (there were 20 in the last campaign), which cause candidates to tack to the right and tear each other down. They need better voter data and a stronger ground game to match the sophisticated campaign apparatus President Obama built.

Changing their message and tactics won’t win Republicans the White House in 2016, however, unless the party itself evolves, says Feldmeth. “Will the Republican Party truly want to engage, understand, and see the emergent electorate as their focus?” he says. In other words, shouldn’t the Product team be invited to this meeting?

Getting more women, minorities, gays, and young people to vote Republican will require policies that appeal to those groups. “Are they going to be willing to give the party over to them? The best brands in the world invite their customers in,” Feldmeth asks. He says the company for Republicans to imitate is “In everything they do, they take the extreme customer-centric view.”

The Republican leadership seems to understand they’ve got a perception problem. That’s why they want to rebrand the Grand Old Party to the “Growth and Opportunity Party.” If Republicans change the message without adjusting the policies that turned these groups off in the first place, however, voters may not buy what they’re selling.

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