GOP's heartless 2014 strategy is killing its 2016 prospects

Republicans may win back the Senate. But their plan to do it will doom any hopes of taking back the White House

Published March 21, 2014 4:44PM (EDT)

John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul                                                                            (Jeff Malet, Brandon)
John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul (Jeff Malet, Brandon)

I had been tempted to retire this semi-regular feature, where we take stock of the various ways the GOP's post-2012 outreach efforts have gone absolutely nowhere.

But a few things happened this week that convinced me it was worth one more go. First, a whole bunch of Republicans decided to applaud the Republican National Committee for the "success" of its so-called Growth and Opportunity Project. This was the GOP's election postmortem, which contained a fair amount of real talk that party leaders briefly attempted to heed, then ignored altogether.

The autopsy called for Republicans to embrace immigration reform; House Republicans have sidelined immigration reform, but advanced legislation to force the Obama administration to deport DREAMers. It called for Republicans to broaden their appeal to minorities, women and LGBT people; House Republicans are sitting on legislation that would protect minority voting rights, raise the minimum wage, and give LGBT people recourse against discriminatory employers.

Newt Gingrich examined this factual record and declared the Growth and Opportunity Project "an historic success."

[embedtweet id=445607539062087680]

So that was one thing. Taken alone, it wouldn't be worth mentioning, except maybe for the opportunity to be condescending and self-righteous, which can be very fun. But it happened to coincide with a series of Republican #rebrand face plants that reflect an incoherence between the party's near- and medium-term goals. The big, elusive goal for the party is to win the presidency again. Become a national party with a more diverse coalition. In absence of an unexpected Democratic meltdown or exogenous economic or geopolitical event, it will require Republicans to make more than merely superficial changes -- and even those have eluded them. They'll have to move convincingly into a policy niche that Democrats currently occupy, much like the Growth and Opportunity Project advised.

But that's way off on the hazy horizon. Right now, the big goal is taking control of the Senate. And their plan for accomplishing that -- don't let President Obama post any victories, don't let anything distract from Obamacare, reduce Democratic turnout -- is not compatible with the presidential election strategy.

Just this week, right after Senate Democrats announced they'd drafted a plan to extend lapsed emergency unemployment compensation with enough Republican support to break a filibuster, Speaker John Boehner smothered it in the crib.

"We have always said that we’re willing to look at extending emergency unemployment benefits again, if Washington Democrats can come up with a plan that is fiscally responsible, and gets to the root of the problem by helping to create more private-sector jobs. There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by Leader Reid meets that test."

Which means the benefits stand almost no chance of being extended under any circumstances.

Boehner also expressed outrage at the facts that a half-dozen states have figured out a way to circumvent food stamp cuts Congress passed (largely at GOP insistence) as part of the farm bill.

“Since the passage of the farm bill, states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps,” he told reporters last week. “I would hope that the House would act to try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.”

Just a few days later, GOP leaders leaked news of the stunning success of their efforts to craft an alternative to Obamacare. Except it wasn't the kind of alternative the House might actually pass, but rather a set of ideas and principles. More specifically, a set of unworkably bad ideas and principles that they've been trotting out for years. And, oh yeah, they will probably never hold a vote on them or even turn them into an actual bill to begin with.

(I must have magical powers.)

Outside the capitol, leading conservative activists are building a strategy to neuter what remains of the Voting Rights Act.

If you don't account for anything as trivial as people's livelihoods, you can see how each of these developments makes sense as midterm election tactics. But they're exactly the kinds of things that will haunt Republicans when the presidential campaign kicks off in about a year.

By Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

MORE FROM Brian Beutler