The year 2012 was a disaster for the Republican Party. They failed to regain control of the U.S. Senate. They lost eight seats in the House of Representatives. They didn’t just lose the White House to Barack Obama, they got clobbered: losing the Electoral College, 332 to 206, and losing the popular vote by almost 5 million. They’ve lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections.
No doubt, the Republican Party’s in trouble. The big question is: How to save it? That question has Republicans in such a panic, they’re acting like Democrats: attacking each other, throwing fellow Republicans under the nearest bus, and readily forming circular firing squads. It’s actually fun to watch.
Divisions within the GOP were in full evidence at last week’s CPAC conference. In a direct slap at John McCain and Mitt Romney, Rick Perry said Republicans might not have lost in 2008 and 2012, had they “actually nominated conservative candidates.” After Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) scoffed at critics and insisted “We don’t need a new idea,” Rand Paul took to the podium and described the Republican Party as “stale and moss-covered,” desperately in need of new ideas. And in a more colorful exchange, Sarah Palin blasted Karl Rove’s plan to form a new PAC to defeat extremist tea party candidates in Republican primaries. Rove should either “buck up” and run for office himself, she told delegates, or “stay in the truck.” Rove fired back: “If I did run for office and win, I’d serve out my term. I wouldn’t leave office midterm.”
Tempers also flared on the Senate floor. Deriding Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) for being extreme right of the Republican Party, fellow Republican John McCain referred to them as “wacko birds.” He later apologized.
But the liveliest shootout was between the current and former chairs of the Republican National Committee. Reince Priebus started it, accusing former chair Michael Steele of racking up large debts and overrunning both of the party’s credit cards. In response, Steele correctly pointed out that, unlike Priebus in 2012, he won his party’s big races in 2010. Priebus then pledged to rescue the party from Steele’s failed direction by adopting a 50-state strategy. At which point Steele, who in fact put his own 50-state strategy in place for 2009 and 2010, appeared to dismiss Priebus as “a numbnuts.”
The two chairs were reacting to the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” a 98-page document released by the RNC this week assessing what went wrong in 2012 and how to fix it. The study was quickly dubbed by the media as an “autopsy,” which in itself speaks volumes. After all, you don’t conduct autopsies on people who are sick and expected to recover. You conduct autopsies on cold, dead bodies.
In many respects, the party’s self-criticism was surprisingly blunt. It included quotes from nationwide focus groups whose participants had left the Republican Party because they felt it had become too “scary, narrow-minded and out of touch” and came across as a party of “stuffy old men.” Young voters in particular, noted the report, “…are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents.” And, perhaps more tellingly, “…many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”
To correct some of the party’s problems, the study recommends, among other measures, a shorter presidential primary season, fewer primary debates, and a $10 million outreach program to young people and minorities. All of which sounds good — except that, within days, leading Republicans demonstrated that nothing has changed. The day after the RNC report was published, President Obama nominated Thomas Perez as the next secretary of labor. Perez was immediately attacked by Jeff Sessions, David Vitter and others for his work to increase the minimum wage and improve the lot of immigrant workers. So much for outreach to Latinos. One day later, Chairman Priebus reaffirmed the Republican Party’s opposition to same-sex marriage — which, in the latest Washington Post poll, is supported by 81 percent of American voters 18 to 29. So much for outreach to young people.
There’s the problem. Preibus and others believe there’s nothing wrong with Republican policies, they just have to learn to deliver the message better. Whom do they think they’re kidding? It’s not just the delivery that’s wrong. It’s the message itself. They don’t just need a new pizza box. They need a new pizza.