Thoughts from an unnamed U.S. senator:
“We’re sitting here in shambles. We need a strategy and a game plan. The strategy starts with: The conservative movement must be able to speak to Americans where we’re not scaring them. Hispanics should be a natural Republican constituency, women too, and youth. But without leadership and strategy it won’t work.”
“Right now it’s still pointing fingers—the polls were wrong, etc. There’s plenty of blame to spread around, but it won’t help.” A “circular firing squad” is counterproductive.
What will help is privately defining what didn’t work and isn’t working, and incorporating what you’ve learned. “The Romney campaign was dumb. It was political malpractice that they didn’t early on go on offense on Bain. I never saw a list of how many companies they helped and created and made competitive.” That list, the senator said, should have been well known to the voters. And Romney’s personal qualities should have been communicated to counter the Democratic onslaught on his character. “This is a good man who got painted as a bad one.”
As a former and likely future candidate, the senator is sensitive about the amount of blame going to unsatisfactory candidates. “There’s something in that,” but if you want to aim at a larger and more recurring problem, “this professional political and campaign class is the real culprit. They’re just there to get a cut of the billions spent. Candidates come and go [to them]. That’s why they love self-funders”—wealthy candidates. “You don’t even have to get ‘em to the fundraisers! We have a real problem with this whole political campaign class. They just have to be purged.”
Will they be? Probably not, the senator says. They’ll diffuse responsibility. “They’re all pointing fingers at some of the other people who deserve some of the blame.” Anyway, “who do we have who would take their place?”
The senator told a story of a “solid” U.S. Senate hopeful in the 2012 GOP primaries. The candidate seemed “perfect for the state.” He began to hire staff, including a strategist with the right experience and deep statewide knowledge. A rival national political operative with a grudge against the strategist immediately inundated the hopeful with “30 calls and emails” from potential backers telling him he’d kill his own chances with that strategist. The hopeful got scared off and hired someone else. His candidacy began to wobble, and the end result was the election of an unpopular incumbent.
The senator is thinking about the most effective ways to communicate the Republican message. There’s a lesson in Wisconsin’s governor and his battle with government unions. “Scott Walker had the right policy but he didn’t try to jam it through—he persuaded, he educated, he reached out. We have to stop alienating people, we have to inform and persuade and win the argument.”
The senator believes the “war on women” trope succeeded to some degree in 2012 not because it was inherently powerful but because it wasn’t answered. Candidates tried to shy away from it. Directness would have been more effective. “We gotta be clear, we gotta look them in the eye, the young women who are concerned, and say, ‘Look, we are not against anyone buying contraceptives!’”
The big question: “Are we still a center-right country, or have we gone over some tipping point? But that question can’t be answered at this time, because we’ve been so hapless at communicating conservative values and principles.” The Republican Party in 2012 was so bad at making clear what it stands for, it actually can’t be sure that the voters rejected what it stands for.
The party must define its goals. “Don’t pop immediately into policy prescriptions.” As the senator sees it, priority No. 1 should be, “How do we first not alienate?” Priority 2: “How do we expand our coalition” with a particular eye to women, Hispanics, and the young.
“The big things first, the policy things follow from that.”
Does the senator sound like a moderate Republican, a RINO? In fact, it is someone who has enjoyed significant Tea Party support.
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Thoughts from another unnamed U.S. senator:
“The Democrats really have beat us on the tactics of winning elections, how to slice and dice and message and get out the vote. They beat us there badly.” The Democrats also had better internal polling.
“Part of the Democratic narrative was the war on women, and some Republican candidates contributed to that, and it killed us with young women, particularly single women. That helped them peel off a lot of the electorate.”
The disastrous 2012 GOP Senate outcome had roots in the immediate past and comes down in part to candidate selection. In 2008, at the end of the Bush administration, and in 2009-10, during the rise of the Tea Party, Washington Republican leaders were anathematized by the base as “the establishment.” It became impossible for that establishment “to start clearing primaries.” Party professionals in D.C. were seen by the base as part of the problem, so they lost what authority they had.
The Democrats don’t have this problem: “[Chuck] Schumer can pick candidates and clear the way. But the [Republican] D.C. establishment can’t do it anymore without a complete backlash” from Republicans on the ground.
“We had to wait for the party primaries and then support the nominee.” This left the party with subpar candidates like Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana.
“Washington doesn’t have the juice anymore to help steer forward a good nominee.” A lot of local Republicans “would rather [nominate] a lightning rod who isn’t electable than someone who’s electable.”
The senator doesn’t know how this is going to get turned around, but is certain it must be.
There’s comfort in the new stars of the party who are women, including Sen.-elect Deb Fischer, who beat former Sen. Bob Kerrey in Nebraska, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, elected in 2010. “They’re gonna be big.”