What's Wrong With the GOP: A Republican Consultant's View
In the aftermath of last November’s rather crushing GOP loss, there’s been the usual process of soul-searching, auditing, and roundtable discussing to ascertain what went wrong and how the Republican party can avoid screwing up on a similar par in 2014 and 2016.
I’ve largely kept out of this process for two reasons. First, travel during December prevented me from partaking in certain efforts forming part of this overall endeavor. Second, I’m a cynic, and remain skeptical that the efforts that have been undertaken and which are, in some cases, continuing will result in the party really understanding the true nature and depth of its problems, let alone cause the party to get its, er, shiitake mushrooms together. The incentives just aren’t quite aligned in that direction yet, in my honest opinion (I may write more on that later).
But, people keep asking me where the problems lie and what do I think needs fixing. So, I’m publishing this post, which—full disclosure—I really feel like comprises a number of “Master of the Obvious” elements, but which some people seem to be missing despite all the chatter.
Here are the big five problems the GOP has faced and will probably continue to face, having regard to where opportunities were missed in 2010 and 2012.
First, a lot of bad candidates have been fielded, and a lot of crappy campaigns have been run. And no, I don’t just mean that candidate whose name immediately popped into your head there.
Second, and tied in with this, we have too many less-than-cutting-edge and insufficiently creative and/or out-of-date consultants making a lot of money off of said crappy campaigns.
Third, our technology sucks in comparison to what Democrats have.
Fourth, growing portions of the electorate—Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans—either loathe us or just don’t like us.
Fifth, the party seems to have forgotten that it’s supposed to stand for something—by which I mean actual principles of some sort, and not just, say, the general bumper sticker concept that “OBAMA = BAD.”
Obviously, some of these problems overlap and interrelate, but let’s start by discussing candidates to pinpoint some problems there (while hinting at some problems in other categories, too).
Everyone knows that Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were not good candidates. What a lot of people don’t seem to recognize is that their opponents, even though they looked like they would perform better based on on-paper attributes, were even worse candidates. How do I know this? They lost to Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. I’m serious. Think about that for a minute.
Now, I come from the more moderate end of the GOP, and cut my teeth as a blogger as an advocate for moderate Republicans. A lot of people in that part of the party will be inclined to respond to this criticism by saying, “no, they weren’t worse candidates, it’s just that the party is so extreme that more moderate or mainstream candidates can’t win over the base.”
And it pains me to say it, but this is simply not true, and I’m going to throw out several names to prove it to you: Mark Kirk. Kelly Ayotte. Carly Fiorina. Dan Coats.
Kirk, Ayotte and Coats not only beat primary opponents widely considered to be more conservative than them, they also won in the general. Fiorina (for whom I consulted—full disclosure) won decisively in the primary besting an opponent generally regarded as more conservative than her (and for the record, California Republicans are more like Kansas Republicans than New York City Republicans). While ultimately losing in blue California, Fiorina lost by a lesser margin than did gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. She also beat the registration gap between Democrats and Republicans.
Now, not all of these people started off running campaigns that might be described as A+ (side note: In my experience, most campaigns suffer road bumps and hiccups on a fairly phenomenal scale for the first 2-8 weeks, anyway).
However, they did not assume they would coast to a victory and they took the job of campaigning very seriously.
That means they hired good staff (not just whoever was already familiar to them or in their entourage or who that one guy who won big 10 year ago used, or some big name consultants who talked a good game but didn’t have a record of putting points on the board).
They set a good strategy that was not predicated on “I’m electable and Republican primary voters like to vote for candidates widely considered to be electable, because they hate Democrats and want to beat them above all else.”
They used opposition research, not just fluffy positive-message “I love puppies” nonsense.