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Donna Perry: The GOP’s Severely Wounded Brand

Thursday, November 08, 2012


As the assessment of the bruising 2012 Election gets underway, the sense of going “forward, seems more out of reach than ever. The Obama win, despite his handlers’ (which includes all hosts of MSNBC) post victory efforts to now position the President as the figure who can “bring everyone together”, seems to have only further enflamed a severely divided nation. The dust has a long way to go to settle, but here are a few observations.

Romney’s years long, tireless and heroically waged battle for the White House ended with his heartbreakingly decent and gracious acknowledgement of defeat on a stage in Boston. Obviously multiple factors caused the loss, but the national Republican Party’s own earlier activities should not be forgotten if the Party is to recover for future elections. The national GOP must now have a serious conversation with itself about two key things: how its messages are conveyed, especially to Independent voters (females and yes, Hispanics); and its handling of its own Primary system and the damage it inflicted on Mitt Romney. Let’s face it: Newt Gingrich did more damage to Romney’s private sector success and career at Bain Capital than any ammunition that was hurled by the other side.

It took Romney all summer to recover from the false and negative images, and many observers felt it wasn’t until September, at the pivotal first debate, that many independent voters, especially women, had the chance to finally glimpse a smart, very decent, and high quality candidate with a true economic recovery plan, who did not seem at all like the caricature that had been drawn. Much damage had been done by then. Furthermore, creating a campaign climate where Obama’s team managed to change the subject from its colossal mishandling of the U.S. economy, and push high decibel, and never favorable arguments over abortion and birth control into the mainstream debate, (aided by several notable toxic remarks by clumsy congressional Republican candidates) was a gross disservice to Romney.

Abortion, defense of marriage laws, and gay rights issues may excite certain elements of the base, but mainstream Republicans have got to demand the Party get back to its strength positions of pro-business, pro-taxpayer, and capable handling of the economy, the military, and foreign affairs, if there is any hope to again capture the White House. A responsible but realistic plan for handling the influx of illegals must also be developed and better communicated.

Here at home, the RI Pizza Party (Democrats) marches on. It’s too simplistic and blatantly unfair to start hurling charges at the state GOP for across the board losses when they do battle in a state where the Board of Elections sees no harm in the fact that “free pizza” was allowed to be delivered to a crowded and chaotic inner city polling place by the campaign of David Ciccilline Tuesday night. The state GOP’s high quality candidate Brendan Doherty, in Romney like fashion, delivered his own set of gracious comments at a difficult moment of defeat Tuesday night after waging a wall to wall, tireless and hard fought campaign. Like Romney, Doherty also battled the relentless rhetoric of class warfare, (“tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires”) senior citizen scare tactics, (the other side will “take away your social security”) and distortion of his record and positions on women’s issues (“the war on women”……”they want to take away your birth control pills.”)

As for the General Assembly races, there was an intermingling of forces who managed to use the 38 Studios debacle and revenge for the statewide pension reform vote to knock out certain Republicans and reformer Democrats, as well as rattle Speaker Fox who only narrowly held on. It should be noted that first time GOP candidates for U.S. Senate (Barry Hinckley) and Congress Second District (Mike Riley) were far from empty suits and both managed to raise critical arguments against incumbents Jim Langevin and the deeply partisan Sheldon Whitehouse. Riley’s unapologetic remarks after his defeat on Election night that states like Rhode Island are in fact dying, and headed for economic disaster, represented an authentic declaration of reality whether you felt the setting was misplaced or not. Both Riley and Hinckley deserve recognition for waging credible campaigns against very high odds.

Make no mistake about it, the state GOP, like its national Party, leaves 2012 not just wounded, but a severely damaged “brand”. It’s not that the product is faulty. The problem lies with the consumer, so frighteningly and easily fooled by the competition’s distorted sales pitch.


Donna Perry is Executive Director of RISC, RI Statewide Coalition



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