On March 18, the Republican National Committee released the findings from a special task force charged with conducting a post-election analysis of the party’s humiliating defeat in the 2012 presidential race, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The 100-page report was commissioned by RNC chairman Reince Priebus in December 2012 after Mitt Romney’s embarrassing loss to President Barack Obama that was compounded by Democrats winning seats in both the House and Senate. The public disclosure of the report through a press conference held by Reince Priebus at a National Press Club breakfast on Monday demonstrates the overtly political nature of the Republican establishment’s effort to market itself in new packaging by only taking responsibility for operational failures and ineffective messaging.
Taken in its entirety, the report clearly seeks to deflect blame from the overwhelming number of establishment Republican candidates who lost to both second-tier and highly vulnerable Democrats in races across the nation in 2012.
Recommendations made by the RNC panel for future campaigns are intentionally designed to give the national party even more control and influence in the candidate selection process from the presidential level down to congressional races.
At every level, the RNC “autopsy” report – as it is commonly called in political circles – is essentially an establishment Republican whitewash of the party’s abject failure in the 2012 elections.
These failures were manifest in the top-down nature of the 2012 presidential primaries, in which the establishment wing of the Republican Party usurped local leaders and the will of grassroots activists at every turn in an effort to secure the nomination for their chosen candidate, former one-term Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
In many ways, the embarrassing 2012 results were presaged by the numerous debacles of failed establishment Republican campaigns in the historic wave election of 2010 when Tea Party candidates fueled an epic revival of the party’s fortunes after the humiliating 2008 presidential race that handed the White House to President Barack Obama with huge Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.
Ironically, in order for the GOP to learn why they lost in 2012, they must first understand the underlying causes for the 2010 defeats. Lessons Democrats learned by elevating grassroots supporters after the 2004 election also provide a template for a successful method of revitalizing a political party’s fortunes after a lackluster candidate failed to deliver.
Self-Funded Candidates Spell Defeat Across the U.S.A.
The Republican establishment continues to complain about a small handful of campaign losses by Tea Party insurgent candidates in both the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
In particular, a few candidates that faced daunting odds of winning their races against Democrats in 2010 and two abhorrent remarks in 2012 have created a narrative among the party bosses that the Tea Party costs Republicans elections.
However, a closer examination of the 2010 losses reveals a completely different story.
Notably, it was the failure of establishment Republicans – often wealthy non-ideological business executives – who not only lost their own high-profile campaigns, but were destructive to many down-ticket races in their particular states.
California offers a microcosm of this phenomenon as a pair of wealthy former business executives were able to use their deep pockets and powerful connections to annihilate their opposition in the Republican primaries.
The result was former eBay CEO Meg Whitman losing to California Gov. Jerry Brown by 11.4 points, while former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina lost to Sen. Barbara Boxer by 9.8 points in the 2010 election.
Both candidates proved to be lousy on the campaign trail, making mistakes and getting drawn into controversies amplified by the media.
Meg Whitman was plunged into a huge scandal when her former housekeeper, Nicky Diaz, surfaced as being an undocumented domestic worker. Hypocritically, Whitman had used the illegal immigration issue to destroy State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner during the Republican primaries when she declared:
“We have to prosecute illegal aliens and criminal illegal aliens in all of our cities, in every part of California.”
The similarity between Meg Whitman and Mitt Romney is unmistakable, with the former Massachusetts governor invoking similar rhetoric to dispose of Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2012 and accusing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani of running a “sanctuary city” during the 2008 Republican presidential primaries.
Romney also hypocritically employed illegal immigrants as landscapers, and only fired them when he sensed they would become a liability for his political ambitions. In one of the most contentious moments in GOP presidential debate history, Romney angrily responded:
“So we went to the company and we said, look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals. It turns out that once questioned, they hired someone who had falsified their documents, had documents, and therefore we fired them.”
For candidates such as Whitman and Romney, who each possess a net-worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the inclusion of emotionally charged rhetoric about illegal immigration to eliminate their primary opponents, when it was later discovered that they had actually employed undocumented workers to work for their own households, revealed a stunning level of hypocrisy and disrespect for the intelligence of GOP voters.
Furthermore, the damage of these actions by Whitman and Romney in their campaigns destroyed any goodwill among Latino, Asian, and other immigrant communities by making Republicans appear out-of-touch and insensitive to those who do household work for wealthy families.
A similar phenomenon occurred all over the U.S. in 2010, with self-financed multi-millionaires winning Republican primaries before being defeated in the general election.
Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon lost by 11.8 points after spending millions in the 2010 Connecticut U.S. Senate race. Similarly, multi-millionaire businessman John Raese lost by 10.1 points in the West Virginia U.S. Senate race in 2010.
In a related sense, businessman Dan Maes lurked in the shadows of the 2010 Colorado GOP gubernatorial race before winning the nomination when the Republican establishment’s prohibitive favorite was caught in a plagiarism scandal that destroyed his candidacy shortly before the state primary.
Dan Maes was such an epic failure as the Republican candidate in the 2010 Colorado governor’s race that he was only able to win 11.1 percent of the vote statewide. Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper trounced Constitution Party candidate, populist ex-GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo, by 13.9 points when the Maes candidacy imploded after questions about his income and campaign funding.
Republicans in Colorado also lost elections with wealthy businessmen in both 2006 when former Rep. Bob Beauprez lost the governor’s race by 18.7 points; and 2004, when multi-millionaire beer executive Pete Coors lost by 4 points in the U.S. Senate race.
A USA Today story summed up the motives for the Republican establishment in selecting Coors as their favored candidate in 2004, by writing:
“Political observers suggest Coors is an attractive candidate not just because of his wealth — put at about $25 million — but because he will be perceived as less conservative than Schaffer. That could be a big plus in November should he face someone like Salazar.”
For the Republican establishment, the temptation in recent election cycles to promote wealthy - often self-funded - business executives as candidates continues to lead to erosion of its relationship with grassroots activists.
Steven Holmes is the Los Angeles Political Buzz Examiner.