The Republican brand problem — and why fixing it won’t be easy

April 1, 2013

Asked to name the single thing that they disliked the most about the Republican party, one in five people in a new Gallup poll said the GOP was "inflexible" or "unwilling to compromise."


A stop sign. AFP/Getty photo.

That's bad -- but it doesn't capture the full magnitude of the brand problems that Republicans are currently dealing with. Two other numbers in the Gallup survey do that.

The first is 26 percent -- as in one in four Republicans saying the thing they dislike about their own party is that it is too uncompromising. That is at least as high as the number of Democrats (22 percent) who said the same thing and higher than the number of independents (17 percent).

That more than one in four Republicans think their own side is too inflexible speaks not only to the divide between the conservative and establishment wings of the party -- nothing shocking there -- but also, and this is somewhat new, to the size of the group who thinks the GOP is simply too hard line.

The second, and more important data point, is that the second most-mentioned critique of the party -- 14 percent named it -- by self-identified GOPers is that they "don't stand up for their positions" and "give in too easily." And, when asked the things they like about their party, the three most-mentioned traits are "better fiscal management/budget cuts/less debt", "conservative views" and "favor smaller government."

Rock, meet hard place.

Republicans want Republicans to compromise. But giving way on the budget and size of government strikes at the party’s raison d’etre. Compromising on those sorts of things -- like the party did in the fiscal cliff deal with President Obama in late 2012 -- is likely to lose the party more of its adherents than it gains it in converts. And, as any party strategist will tell you, a party without a base isn't much of a party.

So, what the party compromises on then matters -- a lot.  And, that's why making a deal on immigration may well be the best chance the GOP has to change the perception that they are allergic to deal-making.

Why? Because it's something of a nothing-burger to their base -- 2 percent volunteer the party’s stance on immigration as a top beef they have with the GOP while 1 percent name it as a positive thing for their side -- and it could well allow the GOP to court Hispanics if the party can play an active role in putting together a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.

What the numbers from Gallup make clear is that simply making a deal to make a deal won't help Republicans convince the public -- or their party -- that the image of the GOP is wrong.  But, picking a high profile place or two -- climate change, perhaps? -- to cut deals might very well allow Republicans to keep their base behind them while shattering the negative image too many Americans have of them as hardened ideologues on every issue.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | April 1, 2013