Friday, November 9, 2012

Republicans, Differentiation and the Branding Pivot

So we wake up after the 2012 election with the reality that, after four years of attempting to make Obama a one-term president, all of the Republican efforts to create insurmountable partisan gridlock essentially failed. Their focused efforts to make things 'not work' did not yield results for them. What's more, in the races that featured their strongest 'essence of the brand' products, those ultra-conservative tea-party candidates, they lost -- lost in districts that were generally considered favorable to their product.

Many of the news programs are talking about demographic trends among voters and how the Republican base is shrinking. Now in many of the interviews with Republican representatives, fundamentally the question that they are asking is, "was this loss a problem with our ability to communicate our message to these segments or is there a problem with our product?"

The risks are high. Here in California, Republicans have positioned themselves into irrelevancy. Having spent the past 15 years digging themselves deeper and deeper into an ideological trench, resisting most efforts to work with consensus solutions for state issues and wielding the super-majority requirement to strong-arm the budget process, state Republicans now find themselves dealing with a Democratic super-majority. Their ability to hold the process hostage has been taken away.

Of course, in the past some have claimed that the reason some of these issues struggled with partisan gridlock was a result of incumbency and ideological voter district mapping. This was the solution to the 'unskewing' of California voters. If they could change the way voting districts were defined, the theory went, they would find themselves with a chance to compete and the end of the Democratic majority.

In the business world, if our product or our business continued to face those kinds of losses, we would probably start looking for a pivot or an exit path. But in the world of politics, we aren't just talking about product utility or adoption, we're really talking about ideology and beliefs. Some California Republicans may have wanted to be more cooperative on budgeting only to find themselves pushed into more ideological polarization. Similarly, over the past two national elections, Republicans have launched primary assaults against moderates.

In terms of differentiation, it's not like Republicans can suddenly now pivot to a position of 'oh hey, we like you moderate types.' While 'Moderate Mitt' helped Romney climb back up in national polling, the ideological purists are not going to tolerate a moderate approach because their ideology doesn't tolerate 'moderate'. It's very much a fundamentalist brand.

In that same way, while a practical approach might consider positions like a polarized immigration stance or the statements from candidates Akin and Mourdock as alienating a market segment, ideological fundamentalists look at these core principles. We're not talking about a product feature -- do I really need an optical drive or not. The only true path to consensus is conversion. Practically speaking, without some sort of act of god or a divisive, polarizing issue to drive conversions from within a demographic segment, there is little opportunity for this branch of the brand to siphon off market share from the Democratic base.

And that puts the voices for a moderate pivot in the Republican brand in difficult position. On the one hand, they are towing an ideologically rigid, alienating anchor. And it has become so ingrained within their brand that they can't escape it. But with it their, they will continue to struggle to find segments increase their market share.

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