Republicans and Catholics will fail if they simply put new faces on old ideas.
What do Reince Priebus and Timothy Dolan have in common?
Mr. Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, has been attempting to “rebrand” the Republican Party, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Catholic Archbishop of New York, is attempting to “rebrand” the Catholic Church as both of these institutions — one political and one religious (well, maybe both political and both religious) — continue to experience a precipitous exodus by former advocates, supporters and believers (who we can now call “leavers”).
If the last series of national elections indicate anything, with the Republican Party losing the popular vote in five out of the last six contests, the party has enormous problems if it wishes to extricate itself from the endangered political species list.
During the 2012 presidential campaign alone, the Republicans lost seats in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, with the overall national electoral college vote going to Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney by a margin of 332 to 206. The Democrats garnered nearly 5 million more votes than the Republicans. Except for older white men and people whose incomes topped $50,000 annually, the Republicans lost most other demographic groups. For example, Democrats won women voters by 55 percent to the Republicans’ 44 percent; voters ages 18 to 29, 60 percent; 30 to 44, 52 percent; urban voters, 62 percent; black voters, 93 percent; Latino/a voters, 71 percent; Asian voters, 73 percent; and voters whose annual income was below $50,000 voted for the Democrats by a margin of 60 percent to 38 percent for the Republicans.
Of the 5 percent of voters who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, approximately 75 percent voted for Mr. Obama.
Regarding the Catholic Church, poll after poll has found that the papacy is out of step with its increasingly shrinking U.S. flock. On the topic of abortion, 55 percent of U.S. Catholics do not want the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision overturned; 67 percent support pre-marital sex between a man and a woman; 71 percent approve of divorce; and 61 percent believe that homosexuality should be approved by society, while 52 percent support marriage equality for same-sex couples; 82 percent approve of birth control; 63 percent sanction medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos; and 59 percent support ordination of women; 58 percent stated priests should be allowed to marry.
In addition, approximately 70 percent of young people between the age of 18 and 22 leave the Church and the Barna Group found that about 80 percent of people brought up in the Church will “disengage” by the time they reach 29 years of age.
Priebus and Dolan both acknowledge the challenges to their institutions, and both came up with virtually similar solutions: change the messaging.
Chair Priebus, appearing on the CBS program Face the Nation, Sunday, March 17, 2013, when asked by host Bob Schieffer “what went wrong” in the last election, Priebus asserted: “We have to relate things to people’s lives. We have to win the math war, which we do a good job of but we’re going to have to learn how to learn the heart war, and that’s what in presidential elections, what is plaguing our party.”
Priebus is now calling for fewer primary campaign debates, earlier national conventions in either June or July during election years, and in particular, initiating better public relations efforts by placing paid “outreach employees” within communities — specifically the rapidly growing voting blocs of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino/as on an ongoing basis “to make the case for our party and our candidates,” he explained to Bob Schieffer. These paid marketing consultants will also target campuses, including historically black colleges and universities.
Chair Priebus recently released a report providing a post-mortem of the 2012 presidential election, and offering “solutions” for the GOP to move forward. The report, called the “Growth and Opportunity Project” argued that:
“We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies….If we believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people, all the American people, our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking to the normal people, people-oriented terms, and we need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case. We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them too” (p. 7).
Archbishop Dolan, also appearing on Face the Nation, on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013, told host Bob Schieffer that he acknowledges the challenging facing the Catholic Church and concluded that “I think while we can’t tamper with what God has revealed [read as policies of the Catholic Church],…we can try to do better in the way we present them, with more credibility and in a more compelling way.”
Dolan expressed his excitement over the recent election of Pope Francis, “because what he’s trying to do I think in a very natural, spontaneous way is to restore the luster to the church, return to those biblical values of utter simplicity, of sincerity, of service, almost a no-frills religion, and that resonates with people.”
For the Republican Party and the worldwide Catholic Church to have any future, all the public relations efforts and attempts to “restore the luster” will ultimately fail to attract voters and followers unless and until these institutions significantly reevaluate and change their policies, dismantle their patriarchal-oligarchic-dictatorial hierarchies, and connect truthfully and effectively to the lived experiences of real people.
Leaders in both institutions are fooling themselves if they think that merely presenting diverse faces and voices and using simple language to reach “normal people” will lead them to victory. To remain viable, the GOP and the Church must craft a diversity of thought and a diversity of policies to give people something to vote for and something to believe in, something to embrace, something that makes peoples’ lives better, instead of merely rehashing the policies of the past simply presented in a box with pretty wrapping paper and a bow.
Maybe then and only then will the Republican Party and the Catholic Church save themselves from themselves.
–Photo: King of the Ants/Flickr