Weekend open thread: Republican regrouping edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Many Republicans have been pondering what their party needs to do to win the next presidential election.

Since election day, Republican politicians and strategists have advanced several different strategies for moving forward.

1. Improve organizing.

Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program featured three prominent Iowa Republicans this weekend: Doug Gross, a longtime confidant of Governor Terry Branstad and the 2002 GOP nominee for governor; The Iowa Republican blogger Craig Robinson; and Republican National Committeewoman Tamara Scott, a social conservative who appeared in one of the No Wiggins television commercials). Robinson focused on the superior organization of President Barack Obama’s campaign in Iowa and the other swing states.

Robinson: Well, I think he lost Iowa because he got beat badly in our large metropolitan counties.  Ten years ago, ten, fifteen years ago it was always said that if you can limit your loss in a county like Polk County to 10,000 votes you could win statewide election.  Mitt Romney lost five counties by over 10,000 votes.  He lost Polk County by over 30,000 votes.  So when you allow your opponent to rack up such a large margin in those areas it is nearly impossible to win a statewide election. […]

I kind of disregard the whole gifts notion.  I think Mitt Romney got outworked in Iowa.  I think the President’s campaign, if you look at every battleground state and look at the people that they turned out, I was astonished that he was able to generate the type of — the same support he received in key counties for him in Iowa that he did in 2008 when everyone viewed him as this hopeful politicians.  I mean, he increased his margin in Polk County.  He increased his margin in Linn County by 6,000 votes.  These are huge numbers.  And so it’s not just because the President was enticing people with food stamps or other entitlement programs.  They went out and targeted the people who were most likely to support him and the Romney campaign didn’t.

Governor Branstad has also suggested that Obama won because of a better organization, not because Americans agreed with his policies.

2. Revamp messaging.

On “Iowa Press,” Tamara Scott depicted Romney’s loss as primarily a failure to articulate his vision.

Scott: Well, there’s a lot of speculation about that and some are suggesting that we moderate the party and I would highly guard against that.  Others are saying that we need to modernize what we do.  Craig mentioned the five counties and I’m just guessing that they are where we have educational institutions in those areas and the urban areas as well.  We as republicans need to reach out I think a little more to those organizations with what we do have and the positive that we have in our party.  But, frankly, Romney himself could have done a better job of reaching out.  Socially on the issues we hear that we should move away from the social issues, every time we face something like this and frankly marriage out-polled Romney and even in the states where marriage lost it out-polled Romney.  And I think that we need to just stick with our base of our party instead of giving on our base every time we come up with something of a controversial issue. […]

Again, I would go back to he didn’t respond very much to attacks.  When we talk about the social issues, Planned Parenthood — when the President says in a debate that Planned Parenthood does mammograms, which it does not do, and he never countered that.  Planned Parenthood had $15 million in messaging and advertisements.  We never countered that.  

Nationally, pundits have made similar arguments. Romney would have won if he had “been talking more about Benghazi and Obamacare” down the home stretch of the campaign. Or, in the view of anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, Obama won by defining Romney as a “poopy-head” in the minds of voters. Republicans need a better messenger to carry their banner into the next campaign.

You can’t pin the whole messaging failure on Romney, though. Outside conservative groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads spent hundreds of millions of dollars on television advertising in 2012 but failed to deliver key U.S. Senate races to Republican candidates.

3. Embrace new or broader policies.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said last week that Republicans need to reorient toward the middle class so as not to look like a party for big corporations and the extremely wealthy.

On “Iowa Press,” Gross cited demographic trends as evidence that the GOP must widen its tent.

But in addition, we have problems with the party.  I think we have four parties right now.  We have sort of the entertainment component of the republican party which are people in the paid punditry, the radio news talk shows and Fox News that basically get paid to talk to the same people over and over and over again, white males.  And so they’re only talking to each other and they don’t understand that it is a bigger issue than just white males.  We’ve got an increasing share of a smaller pie.  That doesn’t win elections.  In addition to that we have the Christian conservatives who are a very important part of our party but I think in a lot of cases they felt left out.  We have an increasing role of libertarians represented by the Ron Paul folks who represent, I think, an opportunity for us to appeal to young people but we haven’t figured out how to actually incorporate them into the party.  And then we have the traditional republicans who are business oriented.  And frankly those four parts of our party are really not even talking to each other right now and until they do we’re going to be a minority party. […]

Gross: We need a libertarian element to our party because if we’re going to appeal to young people we’re certainly not appealing to them based on social issues.  That is one of the reasons why we have our difficulty with young people.  They think we’re —

Scott: I would disagree with that.

Gross: I understand but we’re — I think a lot of young people think that we’re out of touch on social issues.  Whether that’s true or not I think they think that.  However, they have a libertarian strength — streak, because they don’t believe government is the answer to all of their problems, they are concerned about our foreign policy that got them into wars and killed a lot of their friends.  And as a result of that they’re an important component of our party if we’re going to rebuild it particularly with the young. […]

Gross: The only way we’re going to win is we can’t focus though solely on our base and if you look at — Obama did us a favor.  In many respects, in my opinion Dean, what he did is he fast-forwarded the demographic trends that are overwhelming in our country right now, the importance of minorities, the importance of single women.

Borg: How did he fast forward that?

Gross: Because he is a minority and as a result of that he generated their turnout probably greater than any other candidate the democrats could have put up.  But nevertheless there is an inexorable demographic trend where the number of white went down to 72%, it’s continuing to decline.  The numbers of Hispanics went up to record high levels.  And by 2030 Hispanics will double their numbers from where they are today.  And we’re getting beat very, very badly with them.  We got beat worse than we’ve ever had.

Borg: What does the Iowa Republican Party, in your estimation, have to do in order to appeal to those groups?

Gross: First of all, we’ve got to have policies that make sense and simply having policies that say that we’re going to round up 12 million people and ship them out of the country doesn’t make any sense and people know it.  And secondly we need to talk about it in a reasonably way.  We’re all sons and daughters of immigrants.  We all believe in opportunity.  The Republican Party has a good message.  We are the party of opportunity, not entitlement.  We’re the party of opportunity.  We can appeal to minorities with opportunity so long as we don’t call them takers and not makers.

Gross made similar points immediately after the 2008 election, but the huge Republican landslide in 2010 created the impression that the same old GOP could crush Obama easily.

4. Target the conservative base.

Some social conservatives believe Republicans should turn right to move ahead.

“The battle to take over the Republican Party begins today and the failed Republican leadership should resign,” said Richard Viguerie, a top activist and chairman of ConservativeHQ.com.

He said the lesson on Romney’s loss to President Obama on Tuesday is that the GOP must “never again” nominate a “a big government established conservative for president.”

Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots said Romney failed to make the kind of strong case for conservatism that would have won the election. […]

“It should have been a landslide if Romney had run as a true conservative,” said Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center.

Iowa talk radio host Steve Deace learned the same lesson:

Romney did everything the cynical Rove wing of the party says Republicans have to do to win. He abandoned his base with Chick-fil-a and joined the liberal dog pile on Todd Akin. He played it safe and didn’t offer any major tax or entitlement reform ideas to avoid being demagogued. He ran on platitudes and talked more about how bad Obama is rather than what plans for the future he had. He even ran pro-choice television ads, which aired in battleground states such as Virginia and Iowa (has any GOP presidential nominee ever done that?).

And he still lost.

Meanwhile, Obama played to his base at his convention on social issues on national television. He never moderated on issues they cared about. He stayed left the entire campaign, even when it was unpopular. He held his base together.

And he won.

The past two primary cycles have seen scores of Republican incumbents around the country lose to conservative upstarts. Social conservatives and an emerging generation of young libertarians are rebelling against the milquetoast party establishment. In no state is that more prevalent than my home state of Iowa, where social conservatives went with Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum the past two caucuses over the strenuous objections of the party establishment. Ron Paul’s supporters now run the state Republican Party.

With yet another “Mitt McDole” establishment candidate losing a presidential election, the resolve of this new generation of upstarts to not give the GOP establishment the chance to blow another election will grow even stronger.

This argument sounds ludicrous, but the next midterm elections may support this conservative view. Effective gerrymandering allowed the Republicans to keep control of the U.S. House even while receiving at least 1 million fewer votes than House Democratic candidates received. Republicans will probably gain House seats in 2014, thanks to an older, whiter electorate.

In that case, why wouldn’t conservative primary voters turn toward a candidate in the Newt Gingrich/Rick Santorum mode for 2016? The next Democratic presidential nominee may not be able to replicate the Obama campaign’s GOTV and microtargeting, but they may not need to do so if the GOP nominee drives moderates away.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

  • Almost a year ago

     someone, I remember not who it was, said that he wished the repubs would actually go ahead and nominate their craziest wild-eyed ideologue. Let the nation as a whole get a good hard look at the face of making abortion a capital crime and all the rest of the madness and reject the repub candidate in an overwhelming landslide. That might forever shut down the Deaces and Santorums or at least get that wing cast out of the Repub party for a good while.

    Or so he hoped.

    In the next paragraph he wrote that the real fly in that ointment was that anything can happen prior to election day and the whacko might just win. Then woe on all of us.

    • I don't know what it would take

      to convince some people that a hard-core social conservative would lose the presidential election in a landslide. Santorum will be back in 2016 for sure. So will several of the Republican governors, but in the primaries they will be pilloried for such crimes as accepting federal stimulus money, or perhaps expanding Medicaid in their states.

  • Deace

    LOL, where was Romney going to gain votes by embracing the Todd Akin position on abortion?  I had no idea there were a bunch of social conservatives nipping at his heels and taking votes away.  Steve Deace should go back to sports as I have said before.  

    • I know

      Romney was the least unelectable candidate they had in a very weak field. Deace endorsed Gingrich, and Newt as the nominee was my ultimate dream scenario. Talk about a record gender gap.

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