The “rebranding” of the Republican party crashed headlong into reality again yesterday. The setting was Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill. The occasion was a FreedomWorks’ rally for the purpose of introducing what FreedomWorks is calling its “New Fair Deal.”
I was assigned to cover the rally, and what I there illustrated why the odds are against the GOP pulling off a desperately needed makeover. But I saw enough to show me that Democrats can’t afford to get comfortable, because there’s a chance Republicans could just about pull it off.
The turnout was far less than the 1,000 activists FreedWorks said would descend on Capitol Hill. By my estimate there were maybe a couple hundred people there by the time I arrived at the rally (just as the final strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” were fading.) I guess the offer of free bus rides wasn’t enough. (Or maybe tea partiers objected in principle to any “free ride”? I know, I know,.But it was worth a shot.)
I was intrigued that FreedomWorks was sufficiently recovered from its recent troubles to attempt an event like this. I had the tiniest hope that I would hear something new from the conservative movement this time.
But what I got was “old wine in new skins.” The “New Fair Deal” that I guess is supposed to be the conservatives answer to the New Deal, is really the same old stale deal that the GOP has repeatedly failed to sell to voters.
The “New Fair Deal” has four very basic components.
- “Ending corporate handouts”
- “Simplifying” the tax code by closing loopholes
- “Balancing” the budget
- “Empowering” Americans by making Social Security and Medicare optional
Some of this stuff might have sounded good, if I hadn’t listened to the speakers flesh out the points above.
- “Ending corporate welfare” turned out to be about ending investment in green jobs, and alternative energy, and actually protecting or even increasing “corporate handouts” to the coal and oil industries (with enough references to Al Gore and Solyandra to keep the crowd interested.
- “Simplifying the tax code” turned out to be another version of an old favorite on the right: the flat tax. In this case, that means simplifying thing to the point where we have just two rates: 12 percent and 24 percent. Not much was said about corporation paying no taxes at all, but there was plenty about the number of Americans who don’t earn enough to pay federal income taxes. Guess which will be paying up under the “New Fair Deal.”
- “Balancing the budget” comes down to the usual cuts to everything that conservative hate. And that leads to the next and final point.
- “Empowering” Americans by making Social Security and Medicare optional, means making the kind of cuts to both programs that conservatives have longed to make for years. For Social Security, this probably means “private accounts” that are about as safe and reliable as your 401(k). For Medicare, it probably means vouchers.
What’s to get the party faithful fired up? The New Fair Deal consists of 10 bills, which will include:
Cuts to a wide array of subsidies, with alternative energy companies, sugar growers, and high-speed rail all to get the ax. A conservative alternative to Obamacare. A “flat tax” system. A private savings option for Social Security. Tax reform to broaden the tax base.
(There’s a rich irony in the name. President Truman offered the original Fair Deal in the late 1940s, a program that not only looks like a mid-20th century version of President Obama’s current agenda but is widely credited with launching the long-running liberal drive to universal health care, opposition to which inspired FreedomWorks and the tea party movement to begin with in the summer of 2009.)
Largely, the policies are mostly echoes of longstanding conservative rallying cries, although there are some new wrinkles such as a minimum 1 percent income tax (a nod to the 47 percent of Americans, made famous by Mitt Romney, who don’t pay federal income taxes) alongside two tax brackets around 10 percent and 25 percent.
What’s different is the language these tea party activists are using to describe it.
Republicans have the same problem that they’ve always had. The GOP is selling what nobody wants, except the party’s base.
It’s not just marriage equality, and it’s not just “generation X and Y” voters either. Republicans are out of step with the majority of Americans and the emerging American electorate on a wide range of issues.
- A majority of Americans want a path to citizenship in any immigration reform, but Republicans can’t quite embrace the idea.
- A majority of voters across all age brackets believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but the Republican party platform calls for the banning of all abortion.
- An overwhelming majority of Americans, 77 percent, want America to use more renewable energy; only one third agree with the Republican party’s denialist position on climate change.
- In poll after poll after poll, a majority of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy to reduce deficits. Even a majority of the wealthy support raising taxes on themselves. Try getting Republicans to even consider closing a few tax loopholes.
- Likewise, a majority of Americans oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare — even among Republicans — but the GOP won’t even consider a deal that doesn’t cut both.
- Surveys show that the real mandate of the 2012 election was job creation, but Republicans have never met a jobs bill they didn’t kill. Meanwhile, the Republicans cheer the job-killing austerity of sequestration.
Lacking a truly new message, Republicans are savvy enough to find new messengers. I was surprised to see that the first two speakers at the rally were not only women, but an African American woman and a Latina — both of whom spoke with a diverse tableau of young people standing silently behind them.
That was the extent of the change, however. Not only was the diversity on stage the not reflected in the audience, but the decidedly economic focus of the messages from the stage were offset by the signs, t-shirts, and audience responses that were equally concerned with social issues.
The voters in the diverse coalition that rewarded president Obama with reelection, and Democrats with gains in the the Senate and the House, did not vote as they did because of “bribes” or “gifts.” They made judgements based on how government had helped them, and thus would help others, because they believed that’s what government should be about “addressing the needs and desires of people.”
If Republicans think that these groups were merely put off by your “tone,” you guys are fooling yourselves even more than you want to fool voters. Your “tone” in this election only confirmed what women, youth, and minority voters suspected all along. Without a record of even attempting to address their concerns through policies that jibe with your principles, these voters will see right through you.
Your walk won’t match your talk, and it will show. Voters will know that you’re still not that into them, and they won’t be remotely into you.
The “New Fair Deal” is the same old, stale deal from the same old GOP. Can’t say I’m surprised.
I can’t say I’m comforted either. If Democrats keep trashing their own brand, and their “New Deal” legacy as well, they could give the GOP just enough room to pull this off.