It is unfortunate that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus named his after-action report of the 2012 election an “autopsy.” Since autopsies are performed on the dead, it seems out of place to refer to a political party that raised a billion dollars to elect a president, and hundreds of millions more to elect senators and congressman, as having passed on. Money may not be everything, but it is a telling marker relating to the commitment and enthusiasm of the party faithful.
This is especially true when one looks at the 11 races for governor, where the GOP actually picked up a statehouse in North Carolina. Republicans now control 30 governorships to 19 for the Democrats (Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican, won as an independent). In addition, 24 Republican governors preside over legislatures controlled by the GOP to just 12 for the Democrats.
Does this sound like a political party needing an autopsy?
The GOP is alive and well at the state level and has a deep bench of Republican governors, some of whom will almost certainly enter the race for president in 2016. But what marks many of these state executives is a pragmatic approach to governance that has been utterly rejected by many on the right as “Democrat-lite” and hence unworthy of consideration for the highest office in the land.
Regardless, Priebus commissioned the report based on the idea that something was fundamentally wrong with the party at the national level; in this, he hit the mark. As Thomas Edsall points out, the report was brutal in its frankness:
The G.O.P. report is an extraordinary public acknowledgment of internal discord and vulnerability, which has intensified the battle between the deeply committed conservative wing and the more pragmatic, pro-business wing for control of the Republican Party. With just a few exceptions, it does not mince words.
At the federal level, it says, the party is “marginalizing itself,” and, in the absence of major change, “it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win a presidential election in the near future.” Young voters are “rolling their eyes at what the party represents.” Voters’ belief that “the G.O.P. does not care about them is doing great harm.” Formerly loyal voters gathered in focus groups describe Republicans as “ ‘scary,’ ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘out of touch’ and that we were a party of ‘stuffy old men.’ ”
Alas, the report was dismissed as soon as it was published by the very people who had the most to gain by reading it. What should have sparked a serious discussion and an introspective look at the party’s failings became just one more attempt by the “establishment” to marginalize the right.
The problem with Republicans is not their stance on immigration reform, gay marriage, or abortion. Few believe that supporting the president’s immigration reform agenda will draw Hispanics to the party, or that doing a 180 and supporting gay marriage will mollify young people and result in them embracing the GOP. The problem with the party manifests itself in exactly the way this thoughtful report was received: with closed-mindedness and a paranoia about the motives for issuing it bordering on the pathological. What should have set off a round of serious debate about why voters don’t believe that Republicans care about them, or are out of touch, or are scary and narrow-minded actually resulted in a slugfest of vindictiveness and name-calling that only served to prove that the former GOP voters were right.
When things worked less well for conservatives who lacked Reagan’s luck and his genius, they decided their failure was explainable only by sabotage — after all, how else could they lose? On the way, the Right developed a sense of entitlement (the Republican Party owed them a nominee of their liking); an embrace of victimhood; a habit of translating their tactical failure to win over more voters into a moral failure on the part of those voters for not sensing their value; and a belief that they can manage to win more elections by purging all factions (and people) not wholly in sync with their views.