The same is true of TV shows, consumer products and politics: when you have to rely on gimmicks to make your sale, you’re on the path to failure.
Despite a consistent and unyieldingly belligerent posture, the GOP has been increasingly substituting flash-in-the-pan gimmicks for actual policy positions or even coherent ideological talking points. Meanwhile, they’ve been quietly but surely on a path of retreat on substantive grounds.
The Benghazi carnival continues to go nowhere, damaging neither the Democratic Party generally nor even Hillary Clinton in a significant way. Republicans who once thought they could ride an anti-Obamacare wave all the way to November are facing the annoying reality that even in red states the actual specifics of the program are pretty popular, and they’re going to look very bad trying to take away health insurance from millions of people. The seniors who bought into the lie that the ACA is stealing money from Medicare are still with the GOP, but they’re not a big enough voting block to sweep conservatives into a Senate majority, much less the sort of tidal wave they would need to overcome Democratic filibusters.
In the meantime, polls are voters moving away from the GOP on most issues. Fox News’ ratings are tanking. And early numbers are indicating that while liberal and centrist voters aren’t excited about voting in the June primary, conservative voter enthusiasm seems to be greatly diminished as well.
Some of these trends are new, but they were also predictable. Pundits left, right and center have been cautioning for years that the GOP would be placed in a political squeeze by its hardline stance on the ACA. Gay marriage used to be a wedge issue driving Karl Rove’s voters to the polls; now it’s a thorn in the elephant’s side and a major public image problem. The shrill cries of Benghazi barely even excite their own base anymore. And the national Republican party hasn’t even given its own voters a positive agenda it would enact if it held the White House. After all, cutting Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and unemployment benefits isn’t a terribly attractive policy platform for a party utterly dependent on older, less educated suburban and rural white voters. What else are Republicans actually offering the public as a credible policy platform? What are they even offering to their own base?
Without steak to sell, all the GOP has left is culture war sizzle. Enter Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, whose bright light of media controversy over his remarks on gay marriage attracted a swarm of Republican political moths desperate to cling to his popularity with the conservative base. Now they’re stuck with him as he goes to public events telling Republican leadership that they can solve their problems with the electorate by “getting right with God”. His prescriptions for divine governance, unsurprisingly, are non-starters with the majority of American voters.
Gimmicks tend to backfire. Unfortunately for them, the Republican Party doesn’t seem to have much else left in its arsenal.