Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The new Republican reality show

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
February 7, 2013 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
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
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT