Other than having a strong product, knowing one’s target audience is the first rule of marketing. Whether selling houses, an educational experience, financial services, or a concept for a new startup, determining toward whom the “product” — be it physical or intangible — is geared forms the foundation of success. Political parties are no different, and the Republican Party has had a terribly poor record of expanding the party base to gain traction. During a period with dire unemployment, no meaningful programs to stimulate economic growth, and widespread dissatisfaction with the political ethos in Washington, one would imagine the G.O.P. would have swept the presidential, congressional, and senatorial elections. However, the opposite occurred, and this can certainly be attributed to the G.O.P.’s ineffective marketing. In order to sustain its viability and increase its appeal to voters, the G.O.P. must halt its reverence of Christian Bible-toting, male-centric, listless candidates.
Let’s face it: The Democrats know how to market themselves and support candidates with personal experiences to capture voters’ interest. A candidate with educational prestige and professional success who has thrived in spite of racial or gender bias makes for a genuinely interesting, inspirational story that will resonate with voters. As we know, President Barack Obama’s biography and charisma helped catapult him to the heights of political fame. Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), despite her controversial claims regarding personal heritage, leveraged her image as a female, former Harvard Law School professor battling powerful Wall Street interests. Image is vital to success, and the Democrats have quite effectively cultivated people who can be perceived as underdogs yet overcame obstacles to achieve objectives traditionally attained only by privileged males.
The Republican Party leadership needs to understand that people like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will never catalyze an expansion of the party base. Whether or not one agrees with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s politics, it is reasonable to conclude that she is a highly intelligent woman capable of analyzing complex problems (Sadly, her talent was ostensibly cloaked during President Obama’s first term, as she seemed to be a mere puppet forbidden to articulate her own views on international relations). Palin, however, came off as an intellectually deficient talking head whose only talent was her ability to make headlines with unoriginal or outlandish assessments.
The socially conservative element of the Republican contingent has driven the Christian, family values-oriented set of ideals that have come to define the party platform over the last two decades. Although the liberal media likes to exaggerate these facets of socially conservative candidates, the party itself has definitely used social conservatism as a litmus test when selecting candidates to promote. However, this antagonizes many non-Christians, professional women, or single persons whose lifestyles and beliefs do not conform to those of the Republicans’ idealized candidate. If the Republicans want to engage additional female voters, it would be wise to groom candidates such as Meg Whitman, albeit more charismatic, who are distinguished by career success rather than by a traditional family image. Single working women are in search of idols whose achievements they hope to emulate, and talented female candidates who have shattered gender barriers in the workplace are the types of people the G.O.P. should recruit.
It is also important to ascertain that Hispanic and African American voters are requisite to party proliferation. Choosing a vice presidential candidate such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — instead of Paul Ryan, a standard, caucasian male — would have illustrated a genuine commitment to advancing support among these segments of the population. Hence, embracing multiculturalism is an endeavor the party must actively undertake. Party leadership should pursue dynamic individuals such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, or Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval when filling the top ranks. Although these three are relatively novice governors, they have each had meaningful, practical experiences in business or law prior to serving as elected officials. Mobilizing them on a fast track to G.O.P. leadership, rather than solely considering representatives and senators whose only business cards have come from the government, would better serve the Republican agenda.
The G.O.P.’s core message of bolstering self-sufficiency and furnishing viable economic growth is an optimistic, motivational missive. This should be used to inspire interest in female and other minority groups, as it directly addresses the gap in goal attainment they seek to bridge. Therefore, Republicans should be willing to court new voters and understand the needs of constituents whose social and cultural beliefs do not align with those of traditional G.O.P. figureheads. Dull politicians such as House of Representatives Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) who have spent their careers in Congress and live quite easy lives will not reach affinity voters the Republicans sorely need. The party should build a broadly reaching platform that enables them to compete with charismatic candidates the Democrats nurture. This might require the G.O.P. to jettison traditional stereotypes that have unfavorably defined the party’s messages over the last 20 years, but it is a compromise to which Republican directors must acquiesce should they want their commonsense, fiscally responsible plans actually implemented by virtue of seated political power.