The 10 biggest GOP rebranding fails of 2013

From cutting food stamps to "calves the size of cantaloupes" -- the 10 worst moments of the GOP's 2013 rebranding

Published December 30, 2013 12:44PM (EST)

Steve King                          (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Steve King (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

In March of this year, just a few months after the party's drubbing in the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee released its much-anticipated "autopsy" report. The goal of the report was to explain the GOP's 2012 failure and to recommend changes the party could make to improve its chances in the future. On both counts, the authors concluded, the answer was inclusiveness — or the lack thereof. If the GOP were to stay competitive on the national level, it would be necessary to change the way many voters (young and Latino ones, especially) saw the party. And in order to do that, the Republican Party would, as the authors put it, have to "stop talking to itself." It was time to rebrand.

Nine months later, however, it's hard to conclude that the GOP's rebranding effort has been anything other than an abysmal failure. On issues ranging from race to religion to reproductive rights to sex, the Republican Party has proven itself to be the chief political home of bigots, reactionaries, Neanderthals and cranks. Far from being the beginning of a new, better, more inclusive Republican Party, 2013 has proven to be the year of the Republican rebranding fail. And while there was a nearly endless number of rebranding fails to choose from, these 10 are the ones that, in retrospect, really stood out.

10. Sue Everhart, Georgia GOP chair: Gay marriage is unnatural and will lead to fraud.

The Georgia GOP chair seemed to know that what she was about to say was best left unsaid. But she couldn't help herself.

Speaking to a reporter for the Marietta Daily Journal, Everhart furthered the GOP's outreach to LGBT voters and those who support LGBT rights by saying, "Lord, I’m going to get in trouble over this, but it is not natural for two women or two men to be married. If it was natural, they would have the equipment to have a sexual relationship." Everhart wasn't finished, though. She also warned that gay marriage would lead to straight people pretending to be gay in order to reap the benefits of same-sex marriage. Seriously.

"You may be as straight as an arrow, and you may have a friend that is as straight as an arrow," Everhart said. "Say you had a great job with the government where you had this wonderful health plan. I mean, what would prohibit you from saying that you’re gay, and y’all get married and still live as separate, but you get all the benefits? I just see so much abuse in this it’s unreal. I believe a husband and a wife should be a man and a woman, the benefits should be for a man and a woman. There is no way that this is about equality. To me, it’s all about a free ride." 

9. Rep. Marlin Stutzman on the government shutdown: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is."

During the worst days of the disastrously stupid government shutdown, Rep. Marlin Stutzman let fly with this quote, which still remains the ultimate distillation of the Republican Party's insane bargaining position. For a party trying to shed an image of being intransigent and factional, Stutzman's quote was about as helpful as a shot to the gut.

8. Rep. Stephen Fincher cites the Bible to defend cutting food stamps.

One of the many beneficiaries of the Tea Party movement, Fincher took his party's reputation for looking down on the 47 percent to new, Biblical levels. During a debate over whether or not to gut funding for food stamps, Fincher — who has received millions of dollars' worth of government subsidies — tried to ground his support for food stamp cuts in his Christian faith. "The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country," Fincher said. Quoting the Bible, Fincher then said, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat." Needless to say, this did not help the GOP in its efforts to appear more sympathetic toward the poor.

7. Rep. Trent Franks: "The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low."

While you may have thought the Todd Akin disaster would've taught Republicans to avoid discussions of the metaphysics of rape, Rep. Trent Franks — who has previously compared abortion to slavery — decided to go there anyway. The results, while not Todd Akin-level bad, were still ugly. Pro-tip for Republicans trying to win back women voters after losing them by 11 percentage points in 2012: Stop minimizing rape!

6. Rep. Louie Gohmert: "We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic when they are radical Islamist."

Rep. Louie Gohmert says a lot of crazy stuff, just as a rule. But Gohmert is no doubt at his nuttiest when it comes to the intersection of immigration and national security. (Remember his warning about terror babies?) While Gohmert may have said crazier things in 2013, this was still a beaut. What it means, exactly, to "act like Hispanic," Gohmert left unclear — and one imagines some poor GOP operative, working to improve the party's image among Latino voters, thanked him for that.

5. The Republican National Committee tweets: "Today we remember Rosa Parks' bold stand and her role in ending racism."

This one was fun for a couple reasons. First, it was the most high-profile example yet of the GOP's asinine "post-racial" meme, a defense used to dismiss or deny that any criticisms of the president or his agenda are influenced by racial thinking. Second, it led Twitter user @FeministaJones to come up with the wildly popular #racismendedwhen hashtag. When your best attempt to show you're racially sensitive results in widespread mockery, it's fair to guess that the whole outreach thing isn't going so well.

4. Rep. Don Young: "My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes."

Appearing on a radio show, Don Young casually dropped this racist slur into an answer about the mechanization of agricultural work, confirming many people's suspicions that a party largely comprised of old white men harbors more than its fair share of retrograde thinking on matters of race. Of course, Young subsequently issued a statement, saying he "meant no disrespect" — but those hoping for a simple, straightforward apology are waiting still.

3. North Carolina county precinct chair Don Yelton: "If [the state's new voter ID law] hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it."

Don Yelton is admittedly the least influential person on this list. But thanks to his appearance on "The Daily Show," which went viral, his words may well have reached the largest audience of all. And that's pretty unfortunate for the Republican Party, because his words were ridiculously racist. To no one's surprise, the North Carolina GOP fired Yelton for his comments; but in fairness to Yelton, he was merely giving voice to the sentiment behind so many voter ID laws: That some of us are more deserving of the vote than others.

2. Rep. Steve King: "For every [DREAMer] who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

Steve King is second to none when it comes to exuding hatred for Latino-Americans, but for all of his routine demonization of American immigrants, no comment was quite as WTF-worthy as this one. Still, give King credit, it takes a real kind of sincerely held hatred to demonize children who were brought into the country through no fault of their own. And considering the outsized role anti-immigrant sentiment plays in Tea Party politics, King was doing little more than expressing the racial panic so representative of rank-and-file Republicans' views on immigration.

1. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act

True, justices of the Supreme Court aren't politicians — technically — and aren't supposed to be seen as members of either party. But in the real world, everyone knows that the Court's five votes in favor of invalidating a key portion of the Voting Rights Act all came from GOP-appointed justices, while the four votes in opposition to the move all came from Democratic-appointed justices. Indeed, the Court's decision was a stinging reminder that, for all their shared fealty to business interests and the prerogatives of the wealthy, there remain real differences between the two major political parties. While the ruling was a joy to those who believe the biggest race problem in America is anti-white sentiment, to everyone else, the Court's action against the Voting Rights Act was just the lowest point of the GOP's low, low year.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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