Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The Republican Autopsy: A Brief Review
Three years ago, in March 2013, the Republican National Committee released a 100-page document that has been called the autopsy of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign. What prompted this self-study was not just Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat (206 electoral votes to President Obama’s 332), but the fact that the Republicans had lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and lost the White House in four of them by an average of 327 to 211 electoral votes.
The report recognized that the country’s demographics have shifted and will continue to shift away from what has been the traditional GOP base. It made specific recommendations on how the Republican Party would need to change in order to win a presidential election. So, since we’re in the middle of one of the most divisive and surprising Republican battles for the nomination ever, let’s look back and see what the report recommended and how much attention the Republican Party has paid to its own self-study. The material in quotes comes directly from the “autopsy.”
People vs. Policy
“The perception, revealed in polling, that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years. It is a major deficiency that must be addressed.
“One of the contributors to this problem is that while Democrats tend to talk about people, Republicans tend to talk about policy. Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people's lives. Instead of connecting with voters’ concerns, we too often sound like bookkeepers. We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies.”
The distinction here is that Democrats tend to be concerned about circumstances that affect the average citizen, while the Republicans have been more concerned about conservative ideology and requiring their candidates to toe the line of ideological purity. Donald Trump, of course, pays only lip service to conservative ideology, but he is all over the board on issues and does not demonstrate a genuine concern for the needs of everyday Americans (just vague promises to “make America great”). The other candidates, however, have been fighting each other to prove who is more ideologically pure. So, I would have to say that on this particular issue, the Republicans have ignored their own recommendation. As long as they keep offering up supply-side economics as their only economic idea, they can’t seriously claim to have the best interests of ordinary people in mind.
“We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.”
The verdict on this one is easy. The Republican Party is still known as the party of large corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy. Rather than pushing for measures that would equalize wages and holding corporations accountable for malfeasance, the GOP candidates all want to reduce taxes on corporations and the wealthy and deregulate business, under the assumption that corporations are able to self-regulate. All we have to do is look at recent corporate shenanigans, such as the ongoing airbag debacle or Volkswagen’s emissions scam or S&P’s credit ratings fraud or “The Cartel” (traders from four major banks who made their employers billions by manipulating exchange rates), to understand that corporations cannot be trusted to self-regulate. If you are tempted to buy this particular brand of snake oil, just imagine what our water and air would be like if corporations were allowed to self-regulate on pollution standards.
The Hispanic Vote
“If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. . . .
“As one conservative, Tea-Party leader, Dick Armey, told us, ‘You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you. We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home.’”
This election cycle has seen the Republican position on illegal immigration regress from “self-deportation” to mass forced deportation. So the self-study’s recommendation certainly fell on deaf ears.
Social Issues, Young Voters, Women
“When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming.
“If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues.”
On social issues, the Republican Party has done nothing to appeal to young voters or women. If anything, the GOP has moved in the other direction with its attacks on Planned Parenthood.
“We [the authors of the study] are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, must be to embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”
In 2013, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, which then died in the House and has stayed dead ever since. None of the presidential candidates has dared promote immigration reform. All the rhetoric has been shaped by Donald Trump’s infamous wall.
“Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays—and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.”
This is an issue that Republican presidential candidates have pretty much avoided, but this is another area where they have ignored the autopsy’s conclusions.
The Conservative Echo Chamber
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue. Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us.”
Give the GOP an F in this class. Chalk it up to conservative talk radio and Fox News, but for anyone who tries to stay informed on actual issues, listening to a Republican presidential debate is almost like eavesdropping on an alien society. It might shock many Republicans, but the idea of a conservative echo chamber is not just a Democratic notion. The above quote is of course from the RNC’s “autopsy.”
“Ronald Reagan is a Republican hero and role model who was first elected 33 years ago—meaning no one under the age of 51 today was old enough to vote for Reagan when he first ran for President.” The report then approvingly quotes columnists Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner, who wrote, “It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the Party more than 30 years ago.”
After more than 30 years of supply-side economics and massive evidence that it DOES NOT WORK, the Republican Party keeps serving up the same recipe of cutting taxes to deal with the federal deficit. And every Republican presidential candidate in this year’s election has offered a plan that makes George W. Bush look like a tax-and-spend liberal.
Other positions are equally stale. Perhaps biggest head-scratcher is the united GOP opposition to combatting global warming. Even the recent argument that addressing global warming would wreak economic disaster is being disproved by advances in clean-energy technology that are making it increasingly affordable. But the GOP is woefully behind the times in this arena.
Using Technology to Fight Science
“Another consistent theme that emerged from our conversations related to mechanics is the immediate need for the RNC and Republicans to foster what has been referred to as an ‘environment of intellectual curiosity’ and a ‘culture of data and learning,’ and the RNC must lead this effort. We need to be much more purposeful and expansive in our use of research and more sophisticated in how we employ data across all campaign and Party functions.”
Did you catch that? The GOP needs to foster an environment of “intellectual curiosity” and a “culture of data and learning.” But for what purpose? To serve “campaign and Party functions.” And to be fair, Ted Cruz in particular has harnessed technology to aid his campaign (albeit sometimes in ethically questionable ways). But for the party as a whole, they may have attempted to become more technologically savvy, but they are still known as the antiscience party, especially where it concerns the threat of global warming. So, the goal of fostering an environment of intellectual curiosity may be rather empty, or at best self-serving.
“Debates must remain a central element of the GOP nominating process, but in recent years there have been too many debates, and they took place too early. The first debate of the 2012 cycle took place on May 5, 2011, eight months before the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucuses. In contrast, the first Republican primary debate of the 1980 election took place on January 5, 16 days prior to the Iowa caucuses. On January 7 and 8 last year, two debates took place within 12-hours of each other. The number of debates has become ridiculous, and they’re taking candidates away from other important campaign activities. . . . The number of debates should be reduced by roughly half.”
In this election cycle, there were originally 12 debates scheduled, but another has been added in Salt Lake City later this month. In 2012, there were 20, so although they didn’t meet their goal of cutting the number in half, they did reduce the number by 7. And the earliest debate was in August, not May. So, progress, but it can be easily argued that the quality of the debates has decreased much faster than the number of them.
Overall, I would have to say the Republican Party has almost entirely ignored its own self-commissioned autopsy. After assessing the reasons why it has lost four of the last six presidential campaigns and five of the last six popular votes, it basically concluded that it needed to move away from extreme conservative ideology and find ways to appeal to a younger, more ethnically diverse electorate. So far, the presidential campaigns have actually moved in the opposite direction. Trump would be an anomaly in any election, but look at who the best alternatives are: Ted Cruz, a divisive extremist who has alienated the entire GOP Senate, and Marco Rubio, who is much further right than Mitt Romney was in 2012, but who has the backing of the party elite. If the eventual Republican nominee loses in another landslide, maybe the RNC will commission another self-study. But they could just save time and money by republishing the 2013 report.
Of course, there is always the possibility that Donald Trump wins the nomination and bullies his way to the White House. If so, it won’t be because he followed the ideologically pure path taken by his competitors. It also won’t be because he followed the suggestions in the RNC’s autopsy.
But what becomes of the GOP after this year if it loses yet again? What is becoming increasingly obvious is that it is a highly fractured party, ready to come apart at the seams from internal pressures inflicted by inflexible policies and the increasing requirement for unswerving devotion to extreme “conservative” ideology and frankly crazy rhetoric. Will it split apart along any of several existing fault lines? Or will it finally read its own autopsy report and make fundamental changes? Time will tell. But right now, time is one thing the Republican Party does not have.
As I post this, we sit on the eve of an announced Mitt Romney speech in which he will undoubtedly attack Trump. The party elite are circling the wagons in one last-ditch effort to defeat The Donald. But this may well prove futile. He is, after all, the logical result of their own strategy for the past couple of decades. In a very real way, they created him. They have preached pointless anger and the ridiculous notion that government is the enemy for so long now that their less indoctrinated adherents have swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker. And now they are flocking to an outsider who is simply feeding their unfocused anger. The GOP insiders are standing on the brink of a colossal disaster of their own making, and they have no clue what to do about it. For them, the worst imaginable outcome would be for Trump to take the White House. Many must be secretly hoping that Hillary wins. Then at least they will have a president to oppose who isn’t one of their own.