Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The new Republican reality show

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 8:03 AM EST, Thu February 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: Reinventing a political party is never easy
  • She says Republicans are struggling with a new approach after their losses
  • GOP leaders talk of "finishing the sentence" as if they hadn't fully described their views
  • Borger: Republicans reduce reliance on tea party, have had enough of losing

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst, appearing regularly on shows such as "AC360˚," "The Situation Room" and "State of the Union."

(CNN) -- No matter how hard politicians try, party reinventions are never pretty -- and hardly ever subtle. The trick is twofold: First, tell voters you weren't really wrong -- your message just wasn't getting through. Next, shift positions, without admitting you had to change positions to survive.

Bill Clinton, both as a candidate and as president, was the master of reinvention. As a Southern governor, he saw a party that was too liberal, so he pushed it to the center. And when he took a shellacking in the 1994 midterm elections, with Democrats losing control of the House, he took advantage of it, forcing newly empowered Republicans to lead alongside him. Imagine that.

So now comes the latest effort at reinvention, this time from Republicans. There's a new catchphrase, I gather -- since I've heard it in a number of conversations with GOP operatives. "We need to finish the sentence," one senior GOP strategist told me. "It's not just enough to say we want to cut spending. We have to try to bring it home to show how our policies affect people's lives."

We care: Cantor wants to give GOP a 'makeover'

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor likewise opined this week that all Republicans want to do is "help people" and the problem is that they have not "completed the sentence."

So did Republicans just spend a billion dollars on a presidential campaign without "completing the sentence"? Funny, but I think they completed entire paragraphs -- on issues like immigration and taxes -- and they were summarily rejected. If I recall, the GOP debates droned on for months, replete with fully formed and punctuated treatises on everything, including the introduction of the novel idea of self-deportation of illegal immigrants.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Ah, but that was then. Now we know the messaging was bad. And we are getting to the second stage: the recalibration. "Think of it as a reappraisal," one senior GOP strategist told me.

I prefer to think of it as a matter of survival.

Consider some recent events: an eleventh-hour compromise on the fiscal cliff, which included tax hikes; a GOP decision to delay the debt-ceiling deadline; Republican participation in possible immigration reform. Sure, the president has more leverage, but Republicans have more incentive to get something done, too.

Rove at center of GOP family feud

All of which is good. What's also promising are the clear signs that the oversized influence of the tea party is receding. There's no great mystery about it: That's what happens to localized and decentralized grass-roots movements. And no, it's not gone; it has just been put in perspective, freeing up GOP congressional leaders to do what they should have done all along: cut some deals. The long-term political calculation is pretty simple: Political parties can't survive when governed by a single special interest. Period.

That's why, for instance, Karl Rove's American Crossroads group -- after spending more than $100 million on largely unsuccessful Senate candidates -- has decided to get involved in GOP primaries to get better candidates. Some groups within the GOP that prefer ideological purity are balking predictably, accusing Rove, of all things, of being too moderate.

How 'tribes' create gridlock in Congress

Actually, Rove is just being political: Tea party candidates accounted for about a half dozen losses in competitive Senate contests. Says one strategist affiliated with Rove's group: "We find that the novelty of losing is wearing off."

That's why reinventions were invented.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT