Rebranding (III): The GOP


In an op-ed in the FT a few days ago, James Carville argues that the Palin nom was a crucial misstep for the Republicans. He argues (correctly) that the one aspect of the GOP brand that the Dems have found impregnable was that they are the party of “American security” — the combination of national defence, foreign policy, and patriotism. McCain fits that bill, he claims, but the choice of Palin is a “gimmick” that risks gambling away the party’s surest advantage over Democrats.

To a certain extent, Carville is right. Palin really is out of her depth on that file — on the Russia/NATO question in particular, she seems totally clueless. But as Megan McArdle points out, the gamble is paying off so far. McCain’s intrade numbers are soaring.

How to explain this? Some non-exclusive possibilities:

1. Carville’s piece is simply spin, AKA “wishful thinking”.
2. There is more to the GOP brand than “American security”.
3. The McCain ticket is so well-balanced that he more than makes up for her deficiencies, and vice-versa.
4. McCain’s numbers will drop after the VP debates reveal just how out of her league Palin is.
5. Carville is right — there is a short-term boost from the Palin pick, and the damage to the GOP brand will only emerge down the line.

I give no credibility to (2). I suspect there’s a touch of (1) at work, a lot of (3), and about a 1/6 chance of (5) becoming a problem. That’s the probability I assign to the following combination of events: McCain winning and then dying in office, and America being faced with a serious FP crisis under President Palin.

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Rebranding (III): The GOP

  1. “I give no credibility to (2). I suspect there’s a touch of (1) at work, a lot of (3), and about a 1/6 chance of (5) becoming a problem.”

    I love science.

  2. I don’t know that we can necessarily assign the Republican rise in the polls to the Palin pick, although it was the most significant event of the last month. A trend was well underway that required a change in campaigning for Democrats, and Obama may not be effective on the attack, having faced virtually no pushback in any of his political endeavours (except for the one he lost). I’m really just thinking out loud, and I suppose this fits under 3. My thinking all along has been that her experience problem and FP credentials won’t matter because if that kind of thing decides your vote and you have values anywhere within the Republican universe, OF COURSE you’re voting for John McCain in this election.

  3. Ryan: “I don’t know that we can necessarily assign the Republican rise in the polls to the Palin pick, although it was the most significant event of the last month.”

    Very good point Ryan. On these polls, Canadian and US, we all like to assume correlation = causation, which it is, of course, not.

    None of the pollsters invest much in longitudinal data collection, which would help, but not solve our inability, as is, to determine what any of the movements in the polls mean.

    Nonetheless (un)educated guessing is loads-o-fun! Almost, as much as prognosticating future world-crises a la Potter.

  4. I think it’s number 3. People vote for President and don’t think about ‘the ticket’.

    Any problems Palin has with security issues (which I think you are overstating), Obama does as well because he’s constantly changing his mind about foreign affairs, so maybe they cancel each other out.

    And don’t we assign certain values to parties regardless of how accurate they are:

    Republicans/ conservatives always associated with wars, law and order, balancing the budget, ‘tough-love’ policies. And Dems/liberals with social issues and government programs to ‘fix’ whatever is wrong with society.

  5. Republicans/ conservatives always associated with….balancing the budget

    Tell me it isn’t true that some people still believe that.

  6. Whoops, forgot to my crystal-balling.

    Andrew you ignore 4 in your analysis. I am surprised you didn’t go one way or the other on it.

    I think that barring a major foul (and talking about possibilities of war with Russia doesn’t seem to be major), she plays well throughout to the base and to the those with subtle inclinations to the right that are still technically undecided… what she lacks in experience she exudes in charm.

    While I agree that there is not much more to the GOP brand right at the moment, is it possible that there is a significant enough segment of the population that isn’t interested in the brands, and perhaps, ideological positions, of either party, but could be swayed by the core populist appeal of Palin?

  7. the core populist appeal of Palin?

    Isn’t this a GOP brand?

    She’s not really a populist, after all.

  8. Candidates are so overcoached for debates that the whole thing could operate automatically. Whatever you think of Palin’s intelligence, she will be coachable and both she and Joe Bidem will be robots out there.

  9. The answer is 2. “Security” is a big, big part of the Republican brand. But it isn’t the only part. It is also “in touch with middle American values.” Giuliani, Colin Powell, or Lieberman would have reinforced the security brand (which McCain already exemplifies), but would have bombed on the values part of the branding.

    Clinton was able to beat George HW Bush in large part because even though Bush Sr., war hero, CIA director, victor of the Cold War, clearly had the security card, Clinton, the southern Governor who believed in the death penalty, school uniforms, and V-chips, was able to play in the GOP’s values turf. Gore and Kerry had more foreign policy experience than George W., but seemed out of touch and elitist on values questions. Putting Palin on the ticket has solidified the evangelical right (which never really felt comfortable with McCain) and allowed him to play for the lunch bucket Reagan Democrat white working class vote (which doesn’t feel comfortable with Obama, even though they lean Demcoratic on economic issues, especially this year).

  10. They might try to make Joe Biden a robot and he may even try to go along with that but anyone that’s paid attention to his career knows it’s just not on.
    I’ve had no time for McCain since the S&L and Keating days. He’s either venal or stupid. Neither of which disqualifies him for the presidency, of course.
    Palin is just sad. So sad.

  11. I wouldn’t rule out #5, if Palin continues to wow voters with insights such as this one on Pakistan as given to Charlie Gibson:

    “We must not, Charlie, blink, Charlie, because, Charlie, as I’ve said, Charlie, before, John McCain has said, Charlie, that — and remember here, Charlie, we’re talking about John McCain, Charlie, who, Charlie, is John McCain and I won’t be blinking, Charlie.”

    (Bering Straight Talk
    Published: September 13, 2008)

    I got a charley horse just reading it. The VP debates should be edifying.

  12. Dot

    Using Dowd, or NY Times, as a source for anything other than hagiographic articles on Obama is laughable. They are so far in the tank for Obama, they are little better than People magazine.

    I thought answer #5 was the least likely of the bunch because Palin has the royal jelly and if McCain loses this election, Palin will be Repub presidential nominee in 4 years. Guaranteed.

    The gist of Palin’s answer on Pakistan was the US should invade Pakistan if their national security is at stake and no other options present themselves. Same policy as Obama, really.

    I do agree with you, however, that the debate will be something to watch. I am willing to bet my mortgage payment that Biden will come across as the condescending bore he is and Palin will come out of the debate with even more support and good will than she already has.

  13. jwl,

    I was only giving the reference to Dowd for the Palin quote, nothing more.

    As per the debate, my only hope is that Charlie Rose is not asking the questions.

  14. Oh,yes. Charlie’s a scream, isn’t he.

    CEO Worship Central.

  15. Hmmm…the hockey mom vs The Bear. She may need a consult with Anthony.

  16. “But as Megan McArdle points out…”


    Out of the Brooks/Krauthammer frying pan, into the fire…

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