Rep. Eric Cantor's speech yesterday attempting to soften the GOP image is being panned, called everything from putting "lipstick on a pig" by a fellow Republican (ouch) to plagiarism by a liberal blog (double ouch). My Republican loyalist colleague Ed Rogers even says that things are going from bad to worse right now for Republicans, although he predicts a spring renaissance.
I have empathy for the efforts of Cantor (R-Va.) and others who are trying to be heard through the din of criticism, but they are falling into a very common trap that has snared both parties over the years when they have lost an election and talk of realignment is in the air. The press wants a pound of flesh; they want to know whether party leaders have gotten the voters' message that they are out of step and their plans to make adjustments. Leaders who say nothing on the subject are ignored; those who assert “the message isn't the problem, it’s the messengers” are ridiculed for failing to see that the ground has shifted beneath them. Faced with being irrelevant or dumb, some try a third path when trying to make sense of the political future, like Cantor.
As soon as they do, however, the media's trap is tripped. Instead of being rewarded for acknowledging some of the image and substance problems facing Republicans, Cantor, and others, are ridiculed for proposing merely "cosmetic changes." The media begs for the acknowledgement of a problem then uses any suggested solution as evidence that its proponent and his ideas are phony.
Ed Rogers is probably right. The Republican ground hogs should refuse to be trotted out to give predictions and ideas for when and how the party's political winter will end. Stay in their holes, wait for the first warm whispers of spring. They always come.