Branding fight shows why Republicans must showcase real solutions

Labels matter in politics. You can see that in the effort political activists put into trying to damage the other side’s brand. While Democrats once proudly called themselves liberals, now they’re more likely to use “progressive.” The liberal brand had become associated in voters’ minds with excesses, and candidates tried to avoid it.

The left has likewise tried to drive down the “Tea Party” brand, and the latest Moore Information poll shows that, in this state at least, they have succeeded. Only 15% of surveyed Washington voters strongly agreed with the Tea Party’s position in shutdown negotiations while 42% strongly disagreed (53% overall disagreed). Bob Moore notes:

Even among Republicans there is not majority support for the Tea Party position; 22% of Republicans disagree with the Tea Party position, 31% have no opinion and just 47% agree.  The fact that the Tea Party does not garner majority support on the shutdown even among Republicans is a something of a wake-up call for the Tea Party and is indicative of a bigger problem for that group among the electorate as a whole.

What’s notable about these poor polling numbers for the Tea Party is that voters’ blame for the shutdown breaks down pretty conventionally along party lines. Moore says, “Democrats blame Republicans, Republicans blame Democrats and Independents are divided between blaming Republicans (35%), Obama and the Democrats (32%) and assigning blame to both (26%).”

Given that, the next logical move for Democrats is to try to put “Republican” and “Tea Party” back-to-back. We saw a preview of that strategy this week with an extreme statement from Vice President Biden in Virginia: “It’s the first major race between the forces and faces of the new Republican tea party – a tea party whose social recidivism is only outgunned by its hostility to science and technology and innovation and scholarship.”

Gov. Chris Christie, who won an impressive, resounding victory in New Jersey this week, was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he is a Tea Party Republican. His answer is a reminder of what attracted people to the movement in the first place: “I’ll tell you something: I think there are elements of the Tea Party that are Republicans at their best – you know, limited government, in favor of individual liberty and freedom, tough on government spending, questioning taxes and whether you need to expand or grow them.”

What has turned off voters, though, is the perception that the movement is focused only on opposition and lacks a positive policy agenda. The challenge for Republicans is to keep fighting back against the chorus of voices on the left that try to brand everything they disagree with as “extreme” or “tea party” – reminding voters of all persuasions what we stand for, and what our solutions are for the problems we face.

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.