The “New Coke” of American Politics

Sometimes, power brokers are so convinced of their own intelligence that they overlook whether the American public actually wants the product they’re shoving down our throats, and the result is a major fiasco.  America witnessed a classic example of this in the 1980s.

Start the Wayback Machine, Sherman. has the story:

It was early 1985, and the news was slowly leaking out: The Coca-Cola Co. was working on a new kind of Coke, a variation of a product that reached back through American history, a rejoinder to the emerging challenge from an upstart called Pepsi.

The company, already two years into taste tests and research, was working with the secrecy of a military operation.

Then on April 23, New Coke was launched with fanfare, including prime-time TV ads. Company Chairman Roberto C. Goizueta proclaimed New Coke “smoother, rounder yet bolder,” speaking of it more like a fine wine than a carbonated treat.

But public reaction was overwhelmingly negative; some people likened the change in Coke to trampling the American flag.

Soon people were hoarding cases of the old stuff. In June 1985, Newsweek reported that savvy black marketeers sold old Coke for $30 a case. A Hollywood producer, giving an old vintage its proper respect, reportedly rented a wine cellar to hold 100 cases of the old Coke.

On July 11, Coca-Cola yanked New Coke from store shelves. “We did not understand the deep emotions of so many of our customers for Coca-Cola,” said company President Donald R. Keough.

New Coke thus joined rabbit jerky, clear beer and the eight-track tape in the pantheon of marketing goofs, products that seemed like good ideas at the time.

Sam Craig, professor of marketing and international business at the Stern School of Business at New York University, pointed to what he and other industry observers have long considered a fatal mistake on Coca-Cola’s part. “They didn’t ask the critical question of Coke users: Do you want a new Coke? By failing to ask that critical question, they had to backpedal very quickly.”

Back to the present…with some help from

Mitt Romney tried to erase any doubts about his conservative credentials, arguing that he’s fought against government overreach as governor of Massachusetts, while reminding the thousands of grassroots activists gathered here that he’s the sole candidate in the Republican presidential race who is not a creature of Washington.

[Just Boston.]

Speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Mr. Romney vowed to be pro-life, abide by the Constitution and slash federal spending — without cutting the nation’s military budget.

“My family, my faith, my businesses — I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism, Mr. Romney said, arguing that “I understand the battles we conservatives must fight because I have been on the front lines.”

Coming off his disappointing showing in the three nomination contests earlier this week, Mr. Romney is looking to recapture the momentum that he carried out of his back-to-back victories in the Florida primary and Nevada caucus. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s three-state sweep in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado has fed the lingering doubts about Mr. Romney’s ability to rally conservatives to his side.

With that as a backdrop, Mr. Romney assured CPAC delegates that he would fight for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and woman. He noted that as governor, he fought against the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage and to prevent couples from across the nation from traveling to his state to obtain a marriage license.

“We fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage,” he said.

Mr. Romney trained his heaviest fire at President Obama, saying that if conservatives lead with conviction and integrity, “then history will record the Obama presidency as the last gasp of liberalism’s great failure and a turning point for the conservative era to come.”

And he looked to distance himself from his three rivals — Mr. Santorum, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — by playing up his executive experience in the private and public sphere and casting himself as a Washington outsider.

“I happen to be the only candidate in this race — Republican or Democrat — who has never worked a day in Washington,” he said, sparking applause from the crowd. “I don’t have old scores to settle or decades of cloakroom deals that I have to defend.”

“Any politician,” he said, “that tries to convince you that they hated Washington so much that they just couldn’t leave, well, that is the same politician that tried to sell you a ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’” he said, alluding to the infamous — and never built — pork-barrel bridge project in Alaska. The Romney camp has hammered Mr. Santorum for supporting the project when he served in Congress.

Gov. Romney went on to say during his speech,

I am severely Conservative.

I’ve never heard it phrased that way before.  Neither has Rush Limbagh:

I’ve… Look, I don’t want to make anybody mad here. It’s the end of a really hectic and busy week here — and you know I’m not a complainer. You people have no idea of the distractions that each program has had this week that I’ve had to fight through and try to ignore because I don’t complain. So don’t get mad. I may be a little giddy here. I have never anybody say, “I’m severely conservative.” Don’t get mad. I’m not… (interruption) No, I’ve never heard anybody say it. (interruption) No, I’m not challenging his claim to be conservative, don’t misunderstand. I don’t want to get inundated here by Romney supporters. I’m not putting him down.

I’m just observing here. I’ve never heard it said, “Yeah, I’m a severe conservative.” But I know what he’s trying to say. Now, I should add something here. Remember last year during the early days of the campaign — before the votes even began, before any of the primaries had taken place — I successfully, correctly identified for you what the Republican establishment strategy was. They were running a primary campaign 180 degrees out of phase from normal. The way you normally run a primary campaign, either party, is (and this is conventional wisdom) to get the base of your party’s votes, you pander to them. You speak to them. You just go, in this case Romney’s, and you be conservative.

Or, in the case of the Coca-Cola Company, you throw a different formula out there and call it “Coke”.  

Just like the New Coke, which they tried to force-feed Americans in 1985, was rejected by the public, so also, is this “New” Conservative, which the Republican Establishment is trying to ram down our throats, being rejected by American Conservatives.

They should have asked us first.

This entry was posted in Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.