The trouble with Republican reinvention

The political landscape is replete with hope that the GOP will find a way to reinvent itself as a more inclusive and more reality-based organization in the future. The Washington Post carried another such piece today. All it’s a question of, say the optimists, is a few tweaks, some rebranding and a minor dose of reconciliation.

We haven’t seen the beginnings of that at a national level because, well, national Republicans still feel pretty good about themselves. They’ve got control of the House, they may well gain control of the Senate, and they look with relish at President Obama’s approval ratings.

But shouldn’t we be starting to see signs of the reinvention where the GOP is facing its toughest challenges? Like in California? We should. But it’s not pretty:

The gathering opened on a sour note Friday, when the evening’s keynote speaker, state controller candidate Ashley Swearengin, told reporters she was still mulling whether to vote for Kashkari or Brown. “I’m looking at the two candidates like other Californians are,” she said. And Pete Peterson, the Republican running for secretary of state, said in an interview that he was not endorsing Kashkari — or anyone else on the statewide ballot — and did not plan to vote a straight party ticket.

The extraordinary display of disunity led Ron Nehring, a former state Republican chairman and underdog candidate for lieutenant governor, to vent his fury in a profanity-tinged email to party brass just before midnight Friday, after news organizations began reporting the dust-up.

Kashkari is an economic royalist who hasn’t strayed far off the GOP ranch when it comes to supply-side economics, tax cuts for the rich, and the rest of the Republican financial tapestry. But he does preach a more inclusive social message. And for that if nothing else, rank-and-file conservatives are avoiding him like the plague.

A moderate social message is essential for Republican rebirth in California. A more moderate economic one is, too, but Republicans won’t even be able to get a foot in the door without a change on issues like gay marriage and immigration. It would seem that rebranding should be easy on the west coast.

But they can’t even manage it there. How will they ever manage it in Iowa?

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.