Every election victory or defeat is an opportunity to learn, adjust and to grow.
One of the complicating factors in conducting post-election analysis is the tendency for CYA to take precedence over objective analysis that involves criticism. Another tendency is to claim the strategy or tactic was correct, but just needed more resources in the form of time or money. These and other factors that can obscure the truth are why serious post-election analysis requires multiple viewpoints from informed sources with experience in the subject.
Given the relatively small margin of Mitt Romney’s loss, and the historical odds favoring an incumbent President, clearly many things were done right, and that fact should not be overlooked. That which was done well should not be discarded because it took place in the context of an overall loss.
Of the many contributors to the defeat, some were within the control of the Romney campaign, some were within the control of some entity of the Republican Party (RNC, individual elected officials, state committees, etc.) while others were purely external.
THE FENCE REPUBLICANS NEED TO FOCUS ON NOW ISN’T THE ONE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO; IT’S THE ONE BETWEEN REPUBLICANS AND LATINOS. Every Republican Presidential candidate takes a trip to Israel (and they should). Yet, how many take a similar trip to understand the issues and conditions in Mexico and Central America? How many candidates for Governor, Senator, or House districts with significant Latino populations spend more time talking about the border than crossing it?
The cultural chasm between the Republican Party (broadly defined) and the Latino community is enormous, and it must be closed if Republican candidates are to be competitive in a more diverse country. This means understanding conditions in these home countries, supporting policies that can help improve conditions there (such as more trade, drug interdiction efforts, etc.) as well as here, and generally being better able to relate to these communities.
The trite and boring Republican “outreach” efforts in this area have been an enormous flop. The Republican Party needs a reality-based approach.
If there was ever a time for a Latino “Marshall Plan” within the Republican Party, it’s now.
CANDIDATES REQUIRE BETTER TRAINING AND PREPARATION. A seemingly endless flow of SuperPAC money was insufficient to compensate for a single flubbed sentence in two United States Senate races. Humility is the first step on the road to wisdom, and candidates must have the humility to admit there are things they do not know. Excessive confidence in one’s self and one’s beliefs that leads to arrogance produces sometimes politically lethal mistakes. Candidates at all levels need to understand that in an era of powerful social media, they can and must do better on the stump.
EARLY ORGANIZATION BEATS LATE MONEY. Internally, most Republican organizations continue to suffer from a permanent boom-bust cycle. Money flows heavily in the final months or weeks of the campaign, then shuts off completely for months or years. During the “bust” part of the cycle, all kinds of infrastructure disappears. How many laptops, televisions, and headquarters mini-refrigerators will never be seen again? Polling data, research, and other soft assets from hundreds of party committees and candidates is right now disappearing into the ether. This represents a tremendous waste that the party and its candidates cannot afford.
The millions of volunteers who turn out in a Presidential election need to be retained and continually engaged by their local Republican committees, the leadership of who must be trained and supported to maintain this important volunteer infrastructure. Unfortunately, over the next few months many of these volunteers will never hear from someone at the Republican Party with a way to remain involved, and so they will go elsewhere.
QUALITY IN VOTER CONTACTS CONTINUES TO BE OVERLOOKED. The party nationally has begun to recognize that there is a qualitative difference between contacting voters in person, and by phone. Unfortunately, this recognition has not gone far enough, and “total voter contacts” remains the dominant metric in turnout operations. This is a mistake. Since it is far easier to make 10 phone calls than visit 10 voters in person, the inherent bias toward phone contacts is extremely powerful, yet a personal contact by a neighbor has much more impact on voter behavior than a phone call from some random person.
Each of the four areas listed above can be addressed going forward. Complaining about this ad strategy or that speech from 2012 has limited utility, but implementing well-crafted strategies to address structural weaknesses in organization and messaging can and will produce more Republican victories in 2014 and beyond.