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Will Changing Tone and Maintaining Principles Be a Winning Strategy for the GOP in Future Elections?

Updated on April 17, 2013


After losing their bid for the White House and the Senate in the 2012 elections, which, given the dire situation of the economy, should have been a sure win, the Republican Party began immediately scrambling to find out what went wrong. Many blamed the lost on Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment; others pointed to the party as “too extreme”; and still others exclaimed that it was the result of too many “stupid” comments on the part of candidates. The remedy suggested: At its CPAC meeting in Washington, DC, according to television news reports, a 100-page so-called “autopsy” report was released. Among other things, it called for the adoption of a more inclusive “tone” regarding social issues in order to attract younger voters. The suggestion, however, was not new; former Florida Governor Jed Bush, on Meet the Press in August 2012, said the party needs to change its “tone of message.”

The very suggestion evoked reaction. Arguing that the report suggested that the GOP should change its stance on social issues, Republicans took issue with it on the grounds that their policies are sound, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus quickly responded: “To be clear, our principles are sound; our principles are not old rusty thoughts in a book. I think our policies are sound, but I think, in many ways, the way we communicate can be a real problem.”

At its April meeting in Los Angeles, California, members of the RNC made sure that GOP principles would remain unchanged by voting on a resolution to continue their opposition to same-sex marriage, their support for marriage as the union of “one man” and “one woman,” and their call for the United States Supreme Court to uphold the sanctity of marriage in its up-coming ruling on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who seems to be eyeing a run for the White House in 2016, chimed in: His blunt message to the RNC, in its winter meeting, was “We must stop being the stupid party. I am serious. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.” The Governor seemed to have been on to something, but it didn’t take long for him to douse water on the little fire he had created by saying “As I indicated before, I am not one of those who believe we should moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles.”

Democrats and pundits responded that it is not tone that lost the election; it was policy. Voters rejected Republicans’ stances on hot-button social issues, tax cuts for the rich, immigration and so on.

However, Democrats and political analysts need to be careful in their assessment, for if tone, indeed, means the attitudes of the communicator toward the audience, a change in tone could—although not guaranteed—be very effective in changing attitudes of some in the electorate. Of course, tone works in two ways; it may attract or detract. Given the changing situations in the nation, the tone that is arrogant, hateful, disrespectful, uncaring, and racist may turn off more people than it attracts; but the tone that is humble, respectful, caring, and tolerant may energize more than it de-energizes. Whatever the tone, positive or negative, some will be persuaded to change their attitudes. The big question is: What attitudes do Republicans want to portray?

Without a doubt, tone played a huge part in Republications’ defeat in 2012. Candidates’ message, by and large, revealed attitudes (tones) that turned off many voters—arrogance, repulsiveness, hard-heartedness, prejudice, absurdity and so on. These attitudes were reflected in Mitt Romney’s widely reported 47 percent comment, his constantly berating a Harvard Law School graduate (the president) as “being in over his head,” and “not having a clue about how the economy works.” The attitudes were reflected, moreover, in John Sununu’s stereotypical comments, on national television, about the president being “lazy,” disengaged,” and “not very bright,” and Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin’s eccentric, bizarre, and weird commentaries about women’s health issues, to mention a few.

A change in tone could very well help Republicans make a better showing at the polls in 2016 than they made in 2012. Research, indeed, shows that a change in tone is more powerful than it may be seem on the surface. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, in his research found, according to Carol Kent is her book, Speak Up with Confidence, that

  • 7% percent [of what one hears in a speech] involves the actual words we speak
  • 38 % of meaning is conveyed through our tone
  • 55 percent of our communication is non-verbal and is more important than what we say

This means that 93 percent of the message is non-verbal—not the utterance of words. If that is true—and it has been generally accepted as such, although Mehrabian didn’t intend for it to be used as broadly as it is used today—then, Republicans’ change in tone may, at least to some degree, sink their policies and principles below the surface.

The gigantic problem, however, is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to fake tone, for the tone of the message (the attitude of the speaker) basically comes from the heart (the inner being), which is reflected in the voice, face, and body language. If there is disconnect between the message and the projective tone of the messenger, it will be easily detected.

However, the question still abounds: Can Republicans pull it off?

Not likely, but the jury is still out!

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      Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      I couldn't agree more. Putting on a nice face and supporting immigration reform will help, but below the surface smiles, the GOP is and always will be the party of the "have mores" in this country.

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      Charlie 4 years ago

      I agree, and the jury just might be out for a long time. Change does not come by mere words or policy statements ; it comes through commitment to actions that edify rather than demonize. New transition is born after death of the old. The old GOP philosophies have not died.

    • Lawrence L Beale profile image
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      Lawrence L Beale 4 years ago

      Thanks for comment. I am having computer problems. I bought a new computer, but that has not solved my problem. At times, I may not be able to respond to you comments. Thanks again for your support.

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