Just as the Republican Party might have contemplated an end to its wound-licking (the better to gin up its scandal-making machine for President Barack Obama’s second term), vanquished Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney proved to be — for liberals, at least — the gift that keeps on giving.
The president, Romney told a group of campaign donors on a November 14 conference call, won re-election by promising free stuff to his homeboys and women’s libbers and brown people who inconveniently declined to self-deport — or words to that effect.
“What the president — president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government,” Romney told his fat cats, apparently unaware that reporters were listening in. Soon that particular cat leapt out of the proverbial bag, and it was the 47 percent all over again — offering a vision of the majority of the electorate that voted for Obama as a bunch of moochers. The one difference, of course, was that no longer the party’s presidential contender, Romney learned that Republicans were free to kick him to the curb, which they did with steel-toed boots.
In the Los Angeles Times, Morgan Little wrote that within two short weeks, Romney went from being the party’s standard-bearer to being “a punching bag for fellow Republicans…”
The effect of Romney’s remarks was to extend for a second week the rounds of public ruminations by Republicans, via the Sunday talk shows, on what went wrong in the presidential election that Republicans were so certain they were poised to win. The Grand Old Party not only lost, but lost big among key demographics, including Latinos, 71 percent of whom voted for Obama, and unmarried women, 68 percent of whom voted for the president.
Here’s a sampling of 10 reasons given by some of the Republican Party’s leading lights — including Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich and Meghan McCain — and why the party failed so miserably, and what it needs to do in order to make a comeback.
1. Bobby Jindal: G.O.P. = “the stupid party”
The Republican governor of Louisiana made a grand show of great offense at Romney’s remarks, stating such offense in multiple media outlets over the course of several days, and with a flourish on Fox News Sunday, where Jindal’s consternation seemed as much focused on the bad politics of the Romney comments as it was on the contempt shown by the nominee for everyday Americans. On Fox, Jindal’s segment (which also featured Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) was set up with a snippet of video featuring Jindal saying: “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. You know what I mean by that. Certainly, we need to stop making stupid comments.”
Interviewed by host Chris Wallace, Jindal elaborated:
If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And, you don’t start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought. We are an aspirational party.
Let the Democratic Party be the party that says demography is destiny, that says we are going to divide people by race, by gender, by class. We as a Republican Party, believe our conservative principles are good for every single voter. It’s not just a marketing campaign. It’s not just having better PR folks. We’re going to go and convince and fight for every single vote, showing them we are the party for the middle class, upward mobility. We don’t start winning majorities and winning elections by insulting our voters.
2. Lindsey Graham: “We’re in a big hole,” and Romney keeps digging.
When he’s not busy trying to turn the Benghazi tragedy into a scandal, the U.S. senator from South Carolina apparently spends his down time trying to figure out how to fix his own party. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Graham offered a laundry list of things the Republicans had gotten wrong — including anti-immigration rhetoric and the scapegoating of the poor. From theMTP transcript:
SEN. GRAHAM: We’re in a big hole. We’re not getting out of it by comments like that. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging. The Hispanic community, 71 percent voted for President Obama, and they’re all disappointed in President Obama. There’s high unemployment among the Hispanic community. President Obama did not embrace comprehensive immigration reform like he promised. But they voted for him because he’s a lesser of two evils. Self-deportation being pushed by Mitt Romney hurt our chances. We’re in a death spiral with Hispanic voters because of rhetoric around immigration.
Earlier this week, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made a trip to Iowa, home of the infamous caucuses that kick off the presidential campaign season, to lay down his marker on what will likely become the G.O.P. position on immigration reform. “People understand that we need to do something to address these issues, and we need to do it in a reasonable and responsible way,” Rubio told Politico.
But Graham’s critique of Romney and the G.O.P. agenda didn’t end with the DREAM Act or border security. Graham went on to slam the party for targeting the poor. He said:
You know, people can be on public assistance and scheme the system. That’s real. And these programs are teetering on bankruptcy. But most people…on public assistance don’t have a character flaw. They just have a tough life. I want to create more jobs and the focus should be on how to create more jobs, not demonize those who find themselves in hard times. Our party can adjust. Conservatism is an asset. But rhetoric like this keeps digging a hole for the Republican Party and if we don’t stop digging, we’re never going to get out of it.
But, as Michael Tomasky points out at the Daily Beast, it’s hard to see how any truly “conservative” proposal could help those struggling to stay economically afloat. From voucherizing Medicare to privatizing Social Security, the G.O.P. agenda adds up to a life on the economic margins for all but the well-off, and any philosophical retreat from such plans leaves Republicans with little to distinguish them from conservative Democrats.
3. Bill Kristol: “We have a huge middle class problem.”
The Weekly Standard editor and opinionator got himself into some hot water with fellow right-wingers on November 11 when, in that earlier appearance on Fox News Sunday, he suggested that Republicans needed to accept that Obama had something of a mandate, and that maybe the world wouldn’t end if millionaires were made to pay a higher tax rate than they currently do.
A week later, Kristol showed no sign of backing down, though he did suggest that a minor increase on tax rates for millionaires should be part of a small, stop-gap deal to avoid the automatic spending cuts set to go into effect January 1 if Congress doesn’t act, and then negotiate a larger tax-reform deal later on. From the FNS transcript for the November 11 show:
I think we have a huge middle class problem. There, the particular nominee Republicans had was, you know, unfortunate in that respect. Four years after a huge Wall Street crisis, you nominate someone from Wall Street.
But I think honest debate, fresh thinking — leadership in the Republican Party and the leadership in the conservative movement has to pull back, let people float new ideas. Let’s have a serious debate. Don’t scream and yell what one person says. You know what? It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires. It really won’t, I don’t think.
I don’t really understand why Republicans don’t take Obama’s offer to raise taxes for everyone below $250,000…
4. Newt Gingrich: Romney “insult[ed] all Americans.”
In an interview with KLRU in Austin, Texas, former House speaker and Romney rival Newt Gingrich got his digs in on Romney, and implied that the GOP needed to stop insulting potential voters — a pretty novel idea coming from a guy, as digby notes, who, throughout the presidential campaign, referred to Obama as “the food stamp president.”
During the interview with reporter Evan Smith, Gingrich states that it wasn’t just Latinos and blacks Romney that Obama won, but Asian-Americans, as well — so, if I’m reading Gingrich correctly, he’s saying it can’t just be the food stamps. But the former speaker doesn’t stop there: He goes on to knock Romney and his billionaire superPAC donors (at least one of whom, Sheldon Adelson, began the 2012 campaign as Gingrich’s billionaire superPac donor), suggesting that Romney would have spent their money more wisely had he just used it to buy votes more directly. From the transcript, via Hullabaloo:
NEWT GINGRICH: This is the hardest working and most successful ethnic group in America, okay. They ain’t into gifts. Second, it’s an insult to all Americans. It reduces us to economic entities who have no passion, no idealism, no dreams, no philosophy, and if it had been that simple, my question would have been “Why didn’t you out-bid him?”
EVAN SMITH: Right, “You had the money…” you could be in the gift-giving business if you had elected to be.
NEWT GINGRICH: He had enough billionaire supporters that if buying the electorate was the key, he could have got all of his super PAC friends together and said, “Don’t buy ads, give gifts.” It’d be like the northwest Indians who have gift giving ceremonies. He could have gone town by town and said, “Come here and let me give you gifts. Here are Republican gifts.” They could have an elephant coming in with gifts on it.
5. Raul Labrador: Republicans are defending big business, which loves big government.
While the bigger-deal mouthpieces of the Grand Old Party are suddenly paying lip service to the struggles of the middle class and the dignity of the poor, the Idaho congressman goes one step further, calling out his Republican brethren for their love of big business. Displaying his neo-libertarian streak, Rep. Raul Labrador, as part of the November 18 Meet the Press roundtable segment, suggested that the party’s problem is that it just talks the small-government, no-handout game, but when it comes to corporations, government and subsidies rule. And voters don’t like that, he said.
The issue with Romney, according to Labrador, is that he wasn’t really a conservative, and was not convincing trying to play one on TV.
I think the problem that Romney had throughout the campaign is that he couldn’t talk about conservatism like conservatives talk. As I heard somebody say, he talked about conservatism as if it was a second language to him. We …believe in small government, but we also believe in the individual. There are too many Republicans here in Washington, D.C., and they are actually defending big business. They are defending the rich. I didn’t become a Republican to defend the rich. And what we need to understand is that big business loves big government, because they get all the goodies from big government. They get …less competition. The more that government grows, the more that big business actually benefits from the tax code and from the regulations…
6. Peggy Noonan: A kinder, gentler Tea Party needed.
On the November 11 edition of CBS News’ Face the Nation, former Bush 41 speechwriter Peggy Noonan fingered the Tea Party movement as the G.O.P.’s true nemesis, even though she contends that the movement was useful, up to a point. (Noonan is now a columnist for Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.) Her remarks rankled the Tea Party-heads at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, and Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller. Noonan’s remarks on “Tea Party rage,” from the FTNtranscript:
I think the Tea Party is going to have to look at itself. It’s been so helpful to the Republican Party in the past. It saved it by not going third party in 2010, helping the Republicans sweep the House. But the Tea Party-style of rage is not one that wins over converts and makes people lean toward them and say, “I want to listen to you.” I think a friendly persuasion has to begin now from the Republican Party to the people of the United States.
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7. Ralph Benko: GOP’s “Bush Mandarins” ran from Reagan agenda.
Could it be Peggy Noonan whom Benko, a champion of returning U.S. currency to the gold standard, had in mind when he penned his take on his party’s woes for Forbes – a magazine run by a Republican presidential also-ran? (Steve Forbes’ 1996 and 2000 primary campaigns focused on the notion of a flat tax, in which the same rate would apply to store clerks and billionaires alike.)
Benko’s prescription for the restoration of the Republican Party to all its Reaganesque glory was music to the ears of Richard Viguerie, a godfather of the religious right, and the direct-mail kingpin once jokingly known as Reagan’s postmaster general. Viguerie loudly touted the Benko article, “The End Of The Karl Rove Death Grip Signals A Reagan Renaissance,” on Viguerie’s own ConservativeHQ Web site.
The enormity of (and surprise at) the defeat of Romney is a huge setback — and perhaps fatal — to the Bush Mandarins’ hegemony over the GOP. If so, the potential re-ascendency of the Reagan wing of the GOP will prove very bad news for liberals and excellent news for the Republican Party. The Reagan wing now can resurge. A resurgence already has begun.
8. Mike Murphy: Demographics add up to “an existential crisis for the Republican Party”
At least as famous for his punditry as for his political consulting prowess, Mike Murphy — who worked on Mitt Romney’s successful gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts — is not mincing words. The G.O.P. is doomed because, he said on the November 18 edition of Meet the Press, “We don’t know how to win.” And some of the problem there, by Murphy’s own estimation, is that, unlike him, a lot of Republican political consultants are not so great. (Are you listening Karl Rove?) From the MTP transcript:
MR. MURPHY: Look, there’s a huge donor revolt going on. I mean, we have now lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. This is an existential crisis for the Republican Party, and we have to have a brutal discussion about it. We alienate young voters because of gay marriage, we have a policy problem. We alienate Latinos — the fastest growing voter group in the country — because of our fetish with so-called amnesty when we should be for a path to immigration. And we have lost our connection to middle-class economics. We also have an operative class and unfortunately lot of which is incompetent. We don’t know how to win. So, this isn’t about new software in the basement of the RNC. It’s not about a few Spanish language radio ads. It’s a fundamental rethink that begins with policy because the country is changing and if we don’t modernize conservatism, we can go extinct. The numbers are the numbers.
9. Karl Rove: The ground game sucked, and consultants made too much money. (Srsly.)
Perhaps the biggest loser in election 2012 — aside from Romney himself — is Karl Rove, former presidential aide to George W. Bush, and the man who engineered Bush’s 2000 and 2004 electoral strategy. Since leaving government life, Rove has been doing double-duty as both the sugar-daddy front-man for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS — the big campaign machine designed, in the post Citizens United world, to funnel tons of money into advertising and other services that ultimately support Republican candidates.
Rove famously melted down before the Fox News television cameras on election night when, in the midst of doing his moonlighting gig as a Fox commentator, he refused to accept the results of the Obama campaign’s win in Ohio, where the G.O.P. pulled out all the stops to make voting difficult for people likely to pull the lever for the president.
Now Rove is trying to explain away why the $390 million forked over by the 1 percent and funneled through Rove’s outfits bought, well, not much of anything. But for every media buy Rove’s organizations made, political consultants got a cut, and Rove acts as though he had no control over the payment structure.
Rove, who essentially created the model for post-Citizens United outside donor groups – or so-called “super PACs” – with American Crossroads, the group he co-founded, also conceded that super PAC money could have been more effectively spent in the 2012 campaign. He argued that too much of that money had gone to consultants, not targets.
Rove’s group certainly did not produce the kind of financial return for which it had aimed: According to a study by the Sunlight Foundation just 1.29 percent of the nearly $104 million American Crossroads spent in the general election ended up going to a winning race.
If conservative billionaires are looking for something else to be mad about, I’d recommend the Romney campaign’s apparent habit of paying about 50 percent more for TV spots than the Obama campaign. That helped line the pockets of the consultants who both recommended the buys and got the commissions for placing the spots, but it didn’t do much to win the election.
In the end, it turned out that one side ran its campaign like a business, while the other side ran its like a local PTA. Ironically, it was the ex-community organizer who did the former and the ex-CEO of Bain Capital who did the latter.
But, wait — it gets even better. Rove goes on to complain that the G.O.P. ground game just wasn’t up to snuff. As Madison notes, Rove, writing in his November 7 Wall Street Journal column, opined:
Tactically, Republicans must rigorously re-examine their ’72-hour’ ground game and reverse-engineer the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort in order to copy what works. For example, a postelection survey shows that the Democratic campaign ground game was more effective in communicating negative information. It would be good to know why — and how to counter such tactics in the future.
(Note the use of the third person, as if Rove himself were not a Republican strategist.)
That whole reverse-engineering thing? Rove’s old buddy, Ralph Reed, was supposed to be doing just that for the G.O.P. through his Faith and Freedom Coalition, which was believed to have had a budget of tens of millions for the express purpose of applying Obama-style high-tech turnout strategies to drive socially conservative voters to the polls.
After the 2008 election, Reed told a conference of activists last June, he “felt like I had been hit by a truck,” and vowed “never to get out-hustled on the ground again.” Out-hustled he was, but for every microtargeted communication and fancy app employed by Faith and Freedom Coalition, you can bet a consultant took a cut.
So maybe Reed felt like his was run over by a tank on Nov. 7, 2012 — or maybe he just repaired to his $2 million home in Duluth, Ga., and slept soundly.
10. Meghan McCain: Karl Rove sucks.
McCain, daughter of Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, is a political force in her own right, and a pundit whose birthright is forgiven by the sheer fun of her delivery — especially post-election. For the Daily Beast, McCain delivered a scathing on-camera commentary (video on last page of this article), complaining of the stupidity of the G.O.P.’s reliance on white men, which she says “is not a demographic anymore,” to deliver the goods on election day.
But the worst of her ire is reserved for Rove. “I hate Karl Rove,” she says in the video. “I have hated Karl Rove before anybody else hated Karl Rove. I hated Karl Rove when I was, like, 14 years old. I hate — hate — Karl Rove. I think he’s an idiot, a pretentious blowhard, and I think he was ruined a lot of things for the Republican Party during the Bush administration. All these millionaires that keep giving him $400 million for him to not win one election — maybe it’s not working! Maybe it’s not working.”
Transcript of Meghan McCain’s video, part of her “Stark Raving Meghan” series.
So, Republicans, we lost again. I have voted three times in my life, and I have never voted for a winning candidate. I’m sick of this friction’ track record. Everyone knows I’m Republican; I worked very hard trying to get Mitt Romney elected, defending him on television hundreds and hundreds of times. And Republicans, we lost because we were talking about rape and abortion and we can’t get behind our gay friends getting married…I don’t want everyone to break out the ice cream and Nora Ephron movies, because in all failure, there is opportunity. I am many things, but I am no freakin’ pessimist. I think we have a chance to rebuild right now, and I think it can be awesome, and we have another four years. People just have to stop listening to frickin’ right-wing lunatics like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity — ’cause see where it’s gotten us? I think losing — a lot. And losing early.
I frickin’ hate it when election nights are called early. I always think it’s gonna last all night and then it’s called at, like, 11.
I hate Karl Rove. I have hated Karl Rove before anybody else hated Karl Rove. I hated Karl Rove when I was, like, 14 years old. I hate — hate — Karl Rove. I think he’s an idiot, a pretentious blowhard, and I think he was ruined a lot of things for the Republican Party during the Bush administration. All these millionaires that keep giving him $400 million for him to not win one election — maybe it’s not working! Maybe it’s not working.
Give me five freakin’ dollars — I’ll tell you for free what we gotta do. You can’t keep going and trying to get white men, because they’re dying off; it’s not a demographic anymore. We need the single women. But you don’t care. Seriously, I hate Karl Rove. Karl Rove needs to go away and retire, and just crawl back to the hole he emerged from…Everybody hates Karl Rove; he’s like a Bond villain.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent.
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