Fergus Cullen: How Stella helped the NH GOP get its groove back
Stella Tremblay, the delusional state representative from Auburn who continues to suggest the Boston Marathon bombing is a government conspiracy, has performed at least one important public service. She has spurred New Hampshire Republicans to say "Enough!" and take steps to reclaim the party's brand from the crazies.
Corporations understand the importance of protecting their brand, their image in the public's eye. One rat in one kitchen in a chain of 5,000 restaurants undoes decades of good will, destroys trust, and hurts sales for years, not just in the offending store but everywhere the company does business.
The Republican Party, both nationally and within New Hampshire, tolerated too many brand-killing rats in recent years. When midwestern U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock made offensive comments about rape, voters expressed their disgust, in part, by taking it out on Republican candidates running for down ballot offices as far away as New Hampshire. That's what happens when a political brand gets damaged. One Republican somewhere says something stupid and every Republican everywhere pays for it.
Closer to home, a small number of Republican office holders in Concord, most of them political novices identified with the Tea Party, did considerable damage to the New Hampshire Republican brand in 2011 and 2012 by espousing conspiracy theories and fringe policies. Too many other Republicans in positions of responsibility turned deaf ears to crazy talk instead of speaking out against it.
Last fall's election, like those of 2006 and 2008, was not like Passover, when blood on the door spared the virtuous Republicans and only the deserving were killed. Centrist voters concluded all Republicans were either crazy or enabled crazy. Nearly every Republican caught outside a safe seat got slaughtered. That's the high price of a badly damaged brand.
New Hampshire Democrats used to have a brand problem of their own. Support for an income tax was the party's brand and that anchor drowned them electorally for decades. Tired of losing, Jeanne Shaheen and other party leaders took action and marginalized the income taxers. Today Democrats take The Pledge and win. They fixed their brand.
The chorus of Republican voices condemning Rep. Tremblay's views is an encouraging sign that party leaders are determined to repair the New Hampshire Republican brand. This was an act of some political courage for House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, who had to call out a member of his own caucus, and for State Republican Chairwoman Jennifer Horn, whose job it is to elect Republicans. Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey backed them up by calling on Tremblay to resign.
Earlier, Chuck Douglas, who served eight years on the New Hampshire Supreme Court prior to his election to Congress, wrote an important op-ed calling out the self-credentialed constitutional experts who populate the Tea Party movement for invoking the Constitution in vain. Not every policy disagreement amounts to a constitutional violation, Douglas chided.
Chandler, Horn, Duprey, Douglas and others are doing the politically unpleasant but necessary work of reclaiming the party's brand. They are following the lead of William F. Buckley, who viewed his job as separating the right wing from the fringe so a sustainable conservative movement capable of winning elections and implementing policy could take root.
Next year's Republican candidates need them to continue reclaiming the party's brand. For the first time since 1980, New Hampshire Republicans seek candidates for all four major offices - governor, U.S. Senate, and both congressional seats - without having an incumbent in any of them. As yet, the party doesn't exactly have a surplus of candidates champing at the bit to run.
In part this is because potential candidates are studying the long range political weather forecasts. After the blowouts of 2006, 2008 and 2012, they want some assurance that 2014 is shaping up to be the kind of year in which a decent Republican candidate running a decent campaign has a decent chance of winning.
They also want evidence that the party's brand isn't so damaged that voters won't give them a fair hearing. Candidates can't do much to control the weather, but they could join the other leaders in speaking out to repair the brand.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.