In 2012, as Obama cruised through a sizable reelection victory over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the GOP’s top brass were disillusioned. The post-election trauma was palpable—Newt Gingrich declared himself ‘dumbfounded’ by the results, while Karl Rove—mastermind Republican strategist—was on air flatly refusing the reality and finality of the results.
How could this have happened? 2012 was supposed to be a competitive election. Despite this, Nov. 6 brought a decisive victory for Democrats. It seemed that there was an untold story unfolding behind the scenes. Beyond the country’s extant ideological and partisan splits, something was changing with American voters.
The GOP openly searched for answers, and found them in its now-infamous post-election autopsy. The blunt 100-page report delves into why Republicans are losing more and more at the federal level. The Growth and Opportunity Project is a convenient euphemism for what the document really is—a primer for how and why the Party needs an overhaul. It begins by noting that the GOP’s “federal wing is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.” In the long run, it’s evolve or die for the Party’s strident and uncompromising wing.
The architects that crafted this grand strategy in 2012 probably wouldn’t have bothered to do so if they knew how 2016 would go. It’s almost laughable to juxtapose the report’s words with those of its current Republican nominee. A few notable excerpts from the report:
“Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.” “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will not pay attention to our next sentence … we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” “When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming.”
It’s all very well to explore and discuss the Party’s problems, but four years later, nothing has changed. By perpetuating hardline campaign bombast, refusing to throw compromise or consensus into his playbook, and dangerously discounting important constituencies, Republican nominee Donald Trump is mortgaging the future of his Party.
The 2012 postmortem carries valuable insights about long-term strategies, and Trump tends to cavalierly disregard them. Take the foundation of his campaign, the springboard from which he launched to frontrunner: immigration, deportation, and border security proposals, as well as character smears, that have summarily alienated nearly the entire Latino community. His rhetoric and policy proposals have led to very high unfavorability ratings among minorities, females, and young voters—all constituencies that will be electorally formative this year and in many to come.
For a Republican Party that has very transparently grappled with its public image, 2016 may be a decisive blow to any attempts at rebranding or extending overtures to traditionally non-GOP constituencies. When the best that the current nominee does to reach out to said groups is “What the hell do you have to lose?”, the party is unlikely to make any inroads.
In an era of shifting cultural attitudes and rapidly evolving demography, political parties must be malleable. With Trump at the helm, the Party is anything but. Election cycles have a myopic purview, and it’s important to not lose sight of a party’s long-term vitality. Party leadership—Reince Priebus, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Paul Ryan, among others—must do what they can to rein in the loose cannon that is Trump’s mouth. So far, they have been fairly unsuccessful: think the Judge Curiel comments or the feud with a Muslim-American Gold Star family (which were both well after party leadership backed Trump).
The GOP needs a seismic shift in its messaging and outreach to avert the self-diagnosed predicament of looming electoral and demographic challenges. Rand Paul colloquially summarized this problem: the GOP is becoming the “old white man’s party.” Throughout his entire campaign, Trump has not fought this stereotype. Instead, he has perpetuated it and has put the Party in serious jeopardy.
Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor