Good news for those looking to buy the National Republican Congressional Committee's "'Happy Holidays' is what liberals say" T-shirt — it was pulled from the NRCC's store only because it was out of stock, not because its sentiment is as self-obviously offensive as the Comic Sans in which it was written. It's an insult to a group that the GOP doesn't represent but that it largely not trying to sway, so no problem.
BuzzFeed noted that the "what liberals say" shirt was missing from the NRCC's online store on Monday despite having been promoted in this tweet last week. The shirt is, of course, a transparent play for "War on Christmas" dollars, the term for the imaginary national campaign to undermine the Christian holiday, conveniently tracked on this map at Fox Nation. (Included on that list: an Orange County, California homeowners' association that asked houses to remove lights because they violate county code.)
The immediate and understandable speculation about the NRCC's missing shirt was that the group might belatedly have realized what its message implied: that only liberals denied the importance of Christmas. So anyone who is Jewish or Muslim or a Costco or a Republican member of Congress is, in fact, a liberal — as was the "happy holiday"-wishing NRCC in 2010, BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray pointed out. As a group of largely older, mostly whiter people tries to appeal to people of color and young people, some mistakes are inevitable.
Speculation that the NRCC had realized its mistake, however, was unfounded. An NRCC spokesperson confirmed to Gray that the shirt was actually just sold out. In other words: the shirt worked as intended.
That's because it fits within the spectrum of what makes conservative topics popular — which, unfortunately, isn't always the sort of thing that appeals to non-Republicans. In its review of its 2012 failures, the party determined that it should reach out more often to communities of color and young people. But when the NRCC announced its new, BuzzFeed-and-virality-inspired website last spring, we noted that what becomes popular in the conservative sphere are often things that mock any deviance from a narrow white, Christian worldview. A look at the Independent Journal Review, the nascent conservative response to the hugely successful (and liberal) Upworthy, shows that the featured stories are far heavier on critique of the president and Democratic policies than on feel-good stories. Assuming you don't count stories like "This Teen Thought He Could Knockout an Innocent Victim. Then He Learned About the 2nd Amendment" as feel-good.
The NRCC's website has itself not gone viral. Its top "trending" story, which has held that position for some time, is a sort-of-uplifting June listicle offering "9 Interesting Facts About Frederick Douglass." (No. 9: "Douglass died in 1895 in Washington, DC." Interesting!) The post has 40 shares on Facebook; it was written by the NRCC's "Rapid Response Director."
Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism. pic.twitter.com/uxIj1QmtkU— RNC (@GOP) December 1, 2013
The point of that Douglass post is the same as the party's intent with its flubbed Rosa Parks tweet this weekend: to appeal to African-American voters. The Parks tweet failed much more spectacularly and publicly. The tweet was issued from the party itself, and the GOP quickly clarified what it meant when it praised Parks' role in "ending racism"; what it meant to say was her "role in fighting to end racism" (emphasis added). There are a number of reasons that the GOP felt it needed to refine its message in this case: quick and severe blowback, the tweet was from an account with four times the followers as the NRCC's, and those that took offense comprise an important constituency. Most of all, however, the insulting message was almost certainly unintentional, a mistake for which the cause can only be guessed.
In the case of the shirt, though, the insult is part of the sales pitch. Whether or not the GOP sees it as an insult — whether or not they, like Sarah Palin, conflate the celebration of the holidays entirely with Christmas — isn't clear. Perhaps it's just the same sort of obtuseness that led them to claim that racism was ending. Or perhaps they don't care. Non-Christians weren't part of the plan.