About That Terrible GOP Brand …

by Stuart Rothenberg March 27, 2013 · 11:50 AM EDT

I certainly agree with pollster Andrew Kohut’s overall assessment of the Republican Party’s image and positioning problems in his March 24 Washington Post piece. I, too, have written about the GOP’s problems.

But in the piece, Kohut compares the GOP’s current position to the Democrats’ “in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” when the Democratic Party became known as the party of “acid, abortion and amnesty.” He argues the Democratic Party’s radicalization back then stood “in the way of its revitalization.”

It’s worth noting, however, that Democrats retained control of the House and Senate throughout the 1960s and 1970s even if the party was significantly to the left of the public and the electorate.

Yes, Democrats lost the presidential race narrowly in 1968 and by a huge margin four years later, but the 1972 defeat had more to do with the party’s nominee than anything else.

I know this next point will shock some, but here it is: Politics is not only about the presidency. Control of Congress matters, too, and Democrats were able to control both chambers of Congress even when the party had an unflattering image — that is, even when the national brand was damaged.

Obviously, the way House districts are drawn is a factor, as is the parties’ nominees and the quality and nature of the campaigns. It’s also important who is sitting in the White House, how that incumbent has performed and whether voters want change or continuity.

Everyone agrees the current Republican brand is horrible. February’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed only 29 percent of respondents having a positive view of the GOP, while 46 percent had a negative opinion.

But do you know what kind of response the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll got to the same question in April 2009? The exact same percentage of respondents, 29 percent, had a favorable view of the Republican Party, while 44 percent had a negative opinion. Yes, the April 2009 and February 2013 numbers are almost identical.

And in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of October 2009, only 25 percent had a positive view of the Republican Party, while 46 percent had a negative view.

So, what happened in November of 2010, just a year after those terrible GOP brand numbers? Republicans gained more than 60 House seats and a handful of Senate seats, retaking the House majority after losing it four years earlier.

I don’t doubt the Republican brand hurt Mitt Romney last year or that some of the presidential nominee’s missteps hurt the Republican brand. Nor do I dispute Kohut’s general point about the Republican Party’s positioning. But elections are rarely about one party — the same party — over and over again. And while the GOP brand needs fixing, the Democrats’ current advantage in image doesn’t guarantee anything for 2014, let alone 2016.