When you're a political party with toxic views on many issues, you face challenges trying to square the circle of holding fast to those views- either because you believe them, or it's expedient, or both- while appearing not to.
This is why the Republican Party, under the guidance of language shape-shifter Frank Luntz, has devoted so much time and effort to the venture:
In the '90s, he became known as the man who could sell any political message by picking the right words. "Estate tax" sounds worthy and the right thing for a democracy to do, but "death tax" sounds distasteful and unfair. "Global warming" sounds scary, but "climate change" sounds natural or even benign. Luntz became a well-compensated speaker, TV commentator, and convener of on-camera focus groups, which he led with manic curiosity to shed light on what the people really thought about political debates and presidential speeches. "It's not what you say," goes his oft-repeated slogan, "it's what they hear."
Making his second bid for mayor of Charlotte, NC, Republican Scott Stone is trying out the "define the issue out of existence" tack:
Stone said because [anti-gay] discrimination “does not occur, nor is it tolerated” in Charlotte, the “highly divisive” ordinance was unnecessary.
Stone's campaign advisor is Paul Shumaker, whose successful 2014 campaign for NC Senator Thom Tillis featured a nicely-played antigay undertone culminating in an October-surprise lawsuit, at taxpayer expense, to appeal two federal judges' decisions to legalize North Carolina marriage equality back to the 4th circuit court of appeals- whose ruling the two judges had relied upon. Tillis is a past master of expediency politics; he led the successful referendum campaign to put a marriage equality ban in the state constitution. Tillis went so far as to put the measure on the 2012 primary ballot to ensure a higher rural, antigay, Republican turnout, while, during the campaign, telling a college group he expected his taxpayer-funded ban to be overturned within twenty years (video here).
Presidential candidate Marco Rubio is striving mightily to come up with a way to keep second-class status for gays based not on who they are, but what they want:
There's a difference between that an discriminating against an individual because of who they are.
Marriage, he says, is a non-gay institution, so you can't discriminate saying no to someone for something they aren't entitled to in the first place. Though, on other occasions, Rubio has said he would go to a same-sex wedding even though he doesn't think the happy couple should be able to have one, he assumes he would be welcome, whereas getting turned down by Barronelle Stutzman, the martyred florist of Richland, WA, or Jack Phillips, the martyred baker of Colorado Springs, should be something the gays just accept:
And to be honest, in the real world, 99.9% of the time, a same-sex couple doesn't want a florist or a photographer at their wedding that doesn't agree with the choice that they've made. So we're really talking about an issue that in large part is really not going to manifest itself in daily life…
We're back to Stone's point. This is a problem that doesn't exist, and so needs no solution.
Other Republicans say it's not what we say, we just need to stash the Dick Cheney snarly-face and talk about something else:
Many Republicans say their biggest presidential problems involve tone and perceptions, not their stands on issues. If GOP Senate candidates avoid saying incendiary things, such as pregnancies don't result from "legitimate rape," the party's appealing economic message can break through and thrive, these Republicans say.
Last November, "a huge chunk of our problem was tone and temperament," said Mike McKenna, a Republican consultant and strategist.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, another potential candidate for president appearing on Meet the Press this weekend,
"People want to divide with fiery rhetoric and attacks and all of that," he told NBC. "I'm not so much into the attack mode and all that other business. I'm into solving problems.”
Kasich added it was time to "stop hanging out in silos thinking that we've got all the answers without realizing that you can compromise without losing your principles."
Rand Paul has been selling that snake oil for years. Announcing for president, he called for a new message and outreach to nontraditional Republican communities, while insisting the party not "give up on our message or dilute our principles."
For Paul, the way to do this is leads back to Scott Stone: deny. Paul has simply declared all his old statements on policy off-limits. They don't count any more. Not even Fox News can pitch softballs about them.
This view harkens back to the Bush White House aide who explained the "real world" Marco Rubio- and most other leading Republican candidates- inhabit:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Never mind that a post-2102 Republican Party "autopsy" on its brand found the party needs to change- substantively and fast- on major issues that are getting them killed outside the gerrymandered precincts of the House districts. It went nowhere.
The trouble with this sort of change-the-subject, Morning in America campaign is it is, a heart, a Potemkin village. After the election, they can get back to dealing with legitimate rape and related women's issues, as Congress has done this year. Or the economic opportunities that await Latin voters before they are deported.