At least learn from yourself

Preface: this focuses entirely on the Republican Party. Please know we value equal opportunity critique, and we plan on having similar reflections focused on Democrats in the future.

After President Obama decisively won re-election, the Republican National Committee created the Growth and Opportunity Project. This independent review panel spent three months conducting research to find substantive communication changes the Republican Party should undertake so they wouldn’t repeat their embarrassing defeat in 2016.

The panel had five co-chairs leading the research:

  • Henry Barbour, RNC member and nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
  • Sally Bradshaw, senior advisor for the Florida Republican Party and long-time council of Jeb Bush
  • Ari Fleischer, media consultant and former White House Press Secretary (2001-2003)
  • Zori Fonalledas, National Committeewoman from Puerto Rico
  • Glenn McCall, former Chairman of the York County Republican Party

This resulted in the 2013 Growth & Opportunity Report, sometimes known as the Republican 2012 autopsy. It’s an evocative term, but memorable because it gets to the core of what the GOP was doing with the report: looking at the dead Romney campaign, and learning exactly why it failed.

zomney
Side note: please once you’re done reading this, watch “Mitt” on Netflix. Super interesting documentary of a very underrated candidate and person.

When reading some sections of the report, it would appear that the Republican Party has learned almost nothing from their loss in 2012, but I think that’s an oversimplification. Let’s take a look.

A study in learning entirely the wrong lesson

[Republicans] must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.

I’ll begin with the obvious: the report offered suggestions on how to expand the GOP base into Latino communities, focusing particularly on immigration as a policy concern. It’s disheartening to remember how close the Republican Party was to following this advice. Now, the conversation over immigration is entirely unproductive—like they’re building a yuge, yuge wall between the GOP and independents.

So what happened? Did Republicans change their mind on the messaging of immigration? I would argue no, because they undertook the bill in the first place. I staunchly believe there’s a parallel universe where Marco Rubio swept the GOP nomination because of his involvement in this exact legislation, and it’s tragic we don’t live in that universe. Seriously—watch him have to distance himself from something he should be proud of:

When looking back on the failure of the immigration bill, it appears the Republican Party didn’t internally agree on the issue. That’s okay. But instead of parsing out that disagreement, they dropped the bill. No compromise.

no_amnesty_secure_the_borders_deport_the_illegals_design
I once saw a shirt very similar to this one in the international area of EPCOT at Disney World.

A study in reluctant resignation

There is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

No one writing this report in 2013 would’ve guessed that in a little over two years, gay marriage in the US would be legal nationwide. I think the GOP has done a good job moving forward from Obergefell v. Hodges: although gay marriage coming through the Supreme Court is not the ideal circumstance, it’s largely been a non-issue in the 2016 election. Kasich initiated that shift at the first debate last August, and it hasn’t really been talked about since then.

But that’s not to say the Republican Party is doing any better at appealing to gay voters, or those who strongly value the rights of LGBTQ groups. My own home state of Indiana went through an insanely contentious debate over RFRA legislation last year, and similar legislation in other states is being met with the same outrage.

In short, it would appear that Republicans called retreat on the gay marriage front, and have repackaged their arguments in the context of religious liberty. It’s a fight Republicans are a bit more likely to win than the previous one, but it still doesn’t make this gateway any more attractive to young voters. In contrast to the immigration debate, it would’ve been best for Republicans to drop this issue entirely; instead, they’ve given additional reasons for LGBTQ-friendly voters to stay away.

A study in reaching out to ‘the other’

The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.

This is the rhetorical failure destroying the GOP: partisan opposition that is total in nature. It’s an issue based in magnitude of communication rather than specific policy. In the case of the Supreme Court, House Republicans are selfadmittedly opposing nominee Merrick Garland solely because they can. This opposition is total, without regard to individual circumstances—it’s the final line of that quote that really jumped out at me: “…those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

The Republican Party is allornothing. The inability to compromise is political death—expect this to be a theme as long as this blog goes on. As a minority party, this strategy can be effective (after all, it has significantly limited Democratic policy over the last seven years); but as the special interests compound on each other, it offers no legitimate path to becoming a majority.

I can already hear people beginning their responses, “But the Democrats are—” YES, I AGREE. The Democrats are going through the same problem right now with particular interest groups commanding the broader party (I can only name one mildly pro-life elected Democrat). But the issue is more obvious within the GOP, and more immediately threatening to the party’s future.

The GOP did learn one thing from the 2012 autopsy: they need to expand their base. To that, I would add an important caveat: they need to do it in the direction of the Democrats if they ever want the Oval Office again.

Lucas

PS – While going through the Growth and Opportunity Project report, I found these other quotes that didn’t really fit into my piece, but I found interesting / funny. Check them out!

  • The number of debates should be reduced by roughly half to a still robust number of approximately 10 to 12, with the first occurring no earlier than September 1, 2015, and the last ending just after the first several primaries, February – March 2016. (We’re done with the GOP debates, and we ended up having 13, only one more than the report suggested. Let’s go for half that again in 2020?)
  • Well-funded conservative groups should seek to hire activists to track Democrat incumbents and candidates with video cameras constantly recording their every movement, utterance, and action. Within the applicable legal constraints, we need to create our own video content, bank it, and release it when it suits our candidates’ needs. (Isn’t it crazy that they just lay this out?)
  • Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry to host events for the RNC and allow donors to participate in entertainment events as a way to attract younger voters. (Years later, still no cool Republican celebrities.)
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Invocation

Bad news, guys: the sky is falling. The Democratic primary is between an overwrought, but likable, democratic-socialist ideologue and a generally unlikable (yet inevitable) heir apparent. And that’s the sane race. Republicans are stumbling down the path to nominating a narcissistic demagogue who advocates international war crimes. Even if they narrowly avoid having him as their nominee, the DNA of the GOP has been pushed into the light and we can’t ignore it anymore. Also, if none of that panics you: the US men’s national soccer team lost to Guatemala 2-0 last week (FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 18 YEARS) and is now in jeopardy of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Lord, grant us strength and deliver us through these dark times.

Belgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
Captain America’s having a rough day.

The last one’s kind of a joke, but hopefully it rings true in a laughing-about-your-existential-dread sort of way. The 2016 presidential election is moving away from even an echo of decency at a rate that’s equal parts genuinely impressive and really damn depressing. The current election, especially the Republican primary, has looked more like a piece of performance art deteriorating into a reality television competition. We’re in the cheap seats, watching on in horror, wondering where we went wrong.

Is the sky really falling, or are we blowing things out of proportion? Probably a bit of both. Even so, we don’t need to put a shine job on the fact that this is the most unpalatable slate of presidential candidates in modern history. Both dominant political parties are self-destructing (to varying degrees), reflecting divisive trends in society as a whole.

Then again, it could be that the sky has been falling super slowly over the last decade, and we’re just now getting around to talking about it. Trump didn’t come from nowhere – just listen to people of color. Compromise didn’t become a dirty word overnight. Democrats have been pointing-and-laughing at the self-destructing GOP for so long, they’ve forgotten to accomplish practically any lawmaking since 2010. It’s like we gave up and concluded it’d be easier to use courts to create new partisan policy.

Plenty of thinkpieces have been written about how we got here—some worth reading, but fewer than we need to enact change, apparently. The question we keep asking each other, though, is where do we go? How do we make it through this election season without being overwhelmed by the defeatist status quo? How do we wade through this political swamp and cast a vote in good conscience this fall? And you mean to tell us the godly command to love our neighbors still applies to people who lobby to keep the penny in circulation? How do we move towards November and find a way forward?

We don’t claim to know a perfect answer to these questions, but we think community will help us figure it out. This presidential cycle is revealing a fundamental blind spot for our culture—that a functioning civic society might demand something of us as human beings. A functioning, let alone thriving, democracy is dependent on an engaged citizenry. Our institutions and our laws are made in our own image—go figure.

Well, if isolation between people and ideas is a principle cause of our gloomy discourse, it stands to reason we can remedy it through community. You can cringe at quoting High School Musical, but it’s a good reminder: we are all in this together. Our fates are all bound up as one: the debt-riddled college student, the Syrian refugee, the Wall Street banker, the single mom living in West Baltimore, the working class Trump supporter, and the undocumented immigrant worker. We will not find a way forward unless it is together.

So this is a blog, and it’s us just trying to find a way forward. We’re not experts, but we’re earnest, and hopefully that can be enough to start. It’s our last shot at making it through the election season without losing all hope. We’re declaring ourselves the accountability partners of politics. We think that it can be done. We believe that it must be done. Because after looking into it, we discovered all reasonable alternatives require prescriptions.

Each week, there will be a piece from Lucas or Andrew; a guest piece (submissions happily accepted / desperately begged for); and we’ll be sharing some external stuff that’s helping us process this election, too. We hope to not just get through this election, but maybe, if we can be honest enough, learn in little steps along the way. If that’s your hope as well, we invite you to check back on Friday. Welcome to the (political) party.

Whitworth & Sweitzer