I ’m sure some readers will recall the great Tylenol scare of 1982. Over the course of a few days, seven people died in Chicago from taking cyanide-laced capsules, which affected sales of one of Johnson & Johnson’s most popular products. Though the lead suspect was never charged with planting the poisoned capsules, he served 13 years for extortion after demanding $1 million to put a stop to the murders.
Drug executives predicted that Johnson & Johnson’s net income would take such a serious hit that the company would never survive the tragedy. In less than a year, however, Johnson & Johnson rescued the Tylenol brand by creating tamper-resisting packaging. It then used intense advertising and promotion to save the company. Most observers of the industry cite the Tylenol response as one of the best corporate recovery plans in history.
Last week, the national Republican Party took its worst political hit in 20 years in Alabama, where a Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate in a state that is as Republican as any state could be. Saddled with an unattractive candidate, Roy Moore, and poor organization, Republicans were pummeled by an outpouring of women and minority voters. The loss of the seat to a Democrat wasn’t just a local political event. It will have repercussions for at least the next year, and maybe longer.
The Tylenol tragedy was a case study of how a company saved one of its brands. The question for Republicans is whether the party of Lincoln can clean up its act and make its brand attractive to generations of voters who have stuck with it but are now jumping ship. One significant number coming out of the Alabama special election is that over 20,000 Republican voters wrote in other names in obvious disgust with their party. Another exit poll statistic involved confidence in President Trump. That poll showed an even 48-48 split over the president’s performance in office in a traditionally deep-red Republican state.
Republican leaders have now been thrust into crisis, and it’s appropriate to ask whether they have a game plan to get out of it. Desperate to get any legislation signed by Trump, Congressional Republicans are sticking with him even though he’s wildly unpopular, knowing that there may be a big price to pay in 2018. Voters around the country are angry at the government and at the party in power, and each week that’s being proven in big and little ways.
The loss of the governor’s office in Virginia by a large margin was evidence that educated suburban men and women are disgusted with the GOP. Minority voters, who often skip voting in so-called off years, are coming out in record numbers. The Democratic wins in Nassau and Westchester counties were a serious local blow to the Republican Party. The thought that this 2017 phenomenon may carry over into next year has to be chilling for Republican candidates.
It’s clear that the party brand has taken a serious hit because of Trump’s unpredictable conduct in office. His daily insults of friends and enemies, and his negative attitude toward our allies, including Canada, France and Great Britain, have damaged the American brand as well. Trump’s executive orders, which threaten our clean air and our consumer protections, are chasing once-loyal voters away. His daily tweeting has become a joke.
Can the downward party spiral in Washington be stopped before a 2018 disaster? It’s doubtful that the Republican leadership will part company with Trump. Absent a finding of obstruction of justice by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it’s almost certain that all 51 Republicans in the Senate will stick with the president and hope that their tax “reform” bill, which strongly favors the rich, will bring political redemption. I agree with two Republican-leaning television commentators who recently predicted that the tax package would lead to the loss of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives next year and threaten a few Republican Senate seats now thought of as safe.
In 2010, the Democratic Party took a big beating for pushing the Affordable Care Act. Next year it will be the Republicans’ turn to take it on the chin. The party in power has no rescue plan similar to Johnson & Johnson’s post-Tylenol disaster recovery, and it will pay a big price for its blindness to political reality.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.