I've been in the branding business for over 40 years and seen the concept of brand butchered in a thousand ways but the head of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, who has gotten 270 members of Congress and nearly all of the 2012 Republican presidential primary candidates to sign a pledge promising never to raise taxes, came up with a doozy in an interview on 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago.
Norquist says he got the idea to brand the Republican Party as "the Party that would never raise your taxes" when he was 12 years old and riding home on the school bus. He believes political parties need to brand themselves "the way Coke and Pepsi and other products do so you know what you are buying...I vote for a Republican. He or she will not raise my taxes. I'll buy one. I'll take that one."
He went on to emphasize that the success of any product requires relentless quality control to protect the brand. If you find "a rat head in your Coke bottle, you never buy a Coke again. You call your friends, you go on TV and show 'em the rat head in the Coke bottle." He refers to Republicans who vote for a tax increase as "rat heads in a Coke bottle" who damage the brand for everyone else.
The problem with Norquist's brand definition is that it portrays the Republican Party as a "brand" that is strangled with the inability to compromise and effectively address the critical issues facing the country. The issue that has to be addressed is making government more effective and responsive to the needs of its citizens. This requires intelligent compromise and flexibility, an openness to address the critical issues facing the country, unencumbered by this or any one-dimensional political straight-jacket.
The danger of Norquist's obsessive focus on not raising taxes is that it brands the Republicans effectively -- but not appealingly. As a better characterization of their brand, I suggest that Republicans try to shed the growing belief that theirs is the party of ideological dogma and obstruction.
What Republicans need to do is to go back to their roots -- starting with Lincoln -- and remind the nation that they are the party of national growth, racial equality and unity of purpose. These Lincolnian themes will serve Republicans -- and the nation -- much better than becoming the party on the lookout for the supposed rat head of higher taxes.
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