Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The internal struggle over the path forward for Republicans was framed by two events at the national level over the past week. The American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference was held in Washington last Thursday through Saturday. On Monday, the Republican National Committee released its “Growth and Opportunity” report, labeled by many as the autopsy report on the 2012 general election where Republicans failed to gain the White House and lost ground in the US Senate.
The Gathering at CPAC was forward looking. Most of the players who are expected to contend for the 2016 Republican nomination were featured speakers. The Growth and Opportunity report was one looking at mistakes of the past election cycle with an eye toward needed changes in order to avoid making the same mistakes again. Between the two lies a reasonable identification of the split between party factions, and battle lines for control of the hearts and minds of the party.
CPAC – once the domain of Ronald Reagan – has taken a bit more of an exclusionary tone in who they deem sufficiently conservative. This wing of the party of ideas wasn’t keen on hearing from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who was not invited to attend. The organizers also specifically blocked GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans from participating, deeming the organizations aimed at promoting gay rights from within Republican circles as not sufficiently conservative for the second year in a row.
The limits proposed by the autopsy report from the RNC were more along the lines of timeframe for the Presidential Primaries, noting that they are too long and that there are too many debates. The 2012 debates (which began in 2011) generally featured the Republican candidates beating up on each other over topics selected by members of the media who generally skew to the left side of the political spectrum. It was George Stephanopoulos, after all, who injected the initial “war on women” meme into the debate by asking Mitt Romney if he wanted to have a 1960’s Supreme Court ruling allowing contraceptives to be overturned. This despite it not being an issue in the campaign to that point nor anything near what Romney’s campaign had been offering.
Groups that make up a large part of the Republican campaign apparatus but still choose to claim non-establishment status are crying foul over the suggestions in the report. They feel the attempt to limit debates and shorten the primaries hurts the potential insurgent candidates’ chances from those “handpicked by the establishment”. No word on whose hands are actually picking these people.
Those handpicked by CPAC don’t include Christie, but did feature names such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, and even Donald Trump. It seems if the cattle calls for Presidential candidates in 2016 are occurring in early 2013 then the “establishment’s” ability to limit the primary and only allow for a few chosen candidates to get national air time isn’t working very well.
The reality of the situation is that various groups are trying to gain an upper hand and control of the party apparatus so that their version of Republicans can prevail – and in many cases so that they can be sitting at the hand of personal power. Those that control interest groups or official party titles will enjoy a cavalcade of characters who must seek their favor to receive an endorsement or a coveted speaking role. As CPAC has already demonstrated, they have the power to invite those with whom they agree and punish via snub those with whom they do not.
It is important at this stage of the game to look beyond the claims of blame. Those who are spending the majority of their time blaming losses on someone else are also generally refusing to accept any responsibility for those same losses. That is generally the easiest way to determine who is trying to position for 2016 rather than fix the problems of 2012.
Those who actually want to win the White House need to take an honest look at their organization, the messaging, and the messenger. There are many areas that need improvement. One is sorting out those who are working for the cause, and those who are working to promote themselves as the rightful leaders of the party.