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 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT