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Editorial: Self-Help, GOP-Style; Party Isn’t Getting the Message

The Republican Party’s post-election soul-searching has now concluded with the determination that the main problem in 2012 was a failure to communicate effectively.

In Congress, where Republicans are pursuing a policy agenda virtually indistinguishable from the one the party lost with last fall, Speaker John A. Boehner says that a course correction is not in order. “We have to do a better job communicating our principles to hard-working taxpayers,” the speaker told The New York Times last week. “I don’t think we did a very good job of that in the 2012 election.”

Thus, the House is scheduled to vote soon on the latest version of Rep. Paul D. Ryan’s radical budget plan, the brilliance of which did so much to help sink the Romney-Ryan ticket last November. It was Ryan, after all, who framed the election as a referendum on Medicare privatization, income tax cuts for the wealthy and sharp spending reductions for social programs. This platform proved to have such broad appeal that not only was President Obama re-elected with 332 electoral votes, but Democrats also solidified their control of the Senate and made inroads in the House.

And speaking of the Senate, Republicans in that chamber last week forced yet another vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. This one failed 52-45. It was the 54th time that either the House or the Senate had voted on such a proposal since the law was enacted three years ago. This is beginning to remind us of a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The Republican National Committee has issued its own post-mortem, an unsparing critique concluding that, in the words of Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, “The way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough. Focus groups described our party as narrow-minded, out of touch and, quote, stuffy old men.” (And to think that we have always been skeptical of the wisdom of focus groups.)

Anyway, the RNC is going to invest $10 million to bring on board new staff members to conduct an aggressive marketing campaign among young, female and minority voters about “what it means to be a Republican.”

We would suggest that such voters already have a pretty good idea of what it means to be a Republican at present (see focus group, above) and that no amount of aggressive marketing is going to dispel their negative perception until the party abandons its rigid ideological orientation.

Three steps are obvious. The first is to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for those already here illegally. Continuing opposition to this policy is a surefire way to further alienate Hispanic voters, who in many ways are a natural Republican constituency. Pleasant dreams notwithstanding, the Republican message of economic growth and opportunity is not going to resonate when the party’s underlying policy is one of exclusion.

Similarly, to succeed in making a Republican appeal to young voters, the party is simply going to have to come to terms with gay marriage, which is so widely accepted by young people of all political persuasions that they simply don’t understand why anyone is still talking about it. And it shouldn’t be that hard for a party with strong libertarian leanings to embrace gay marriage as an exercise in individual freedom that enhances family life.

Finally, while there is a discussion to be had about tax and spending policies, it cannot be conducted on the narrow ground that Republicans have staked out and which they still defend in the Ryan budget. Whatever the party wishes to believe, the election did settle the question of whether the deficit will be addressed solely by reducing spending. New revenues will be required as well, and the wealthy will be asked to do their part.

The Republican problem is not the messaging; it’s the message.