Dead and Loving It: How the GOP Learned Nothing from its 2012 Autopsy Report

Dead and Loving It: How the GOP Learned Nothing from its 2012 Autopsy Report

Donald Trump at a December rally in Laconia, NH.                Photo from Wiki Commons.  

Donald Trump at a December rally in Laconia, NH.                Photo from Wiki Commons.  

"It's easy to diagnose the problem. It's harder to do something about the problem." 

The aforementioned quote was spoken by Hillary Clinton during the most recent Democratic debate that took place in Brooklyn. Clinton said it in reference to her opponent Bernie Sanders, someone who throughout his campaign has been calling for economic reform but in reality had no real plan as to how to achieve it. Yet the quote could just as easily apply to the modern-day GOP, a political party that was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the presidency was theirs for the taking in 2012. They were so convinced in fact, that their presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not even write a concession speech for election night. When it was announced that Barack Obama had easily won reelection, the news sent Karl Rove into an epic meltdown that will forever live in progressive lore. With so many on the GOP side being firmly convinced they would win, there had to be some logical explanation as to why it didn't happen. 

Enter the Growth and Opportunity Project, a one-hundred page "political autopsy" report created by the Republican National Committee. The RNC began its autopsy in December of 2012 and spent just over 3 months interviewing 2,600 people including party members, technical experts, and voters in-person, while also conducting focus groups in both Ohio and Iowa for people who chose to leave the party, and even using surveys for both Republican Hispanic voters as well as non-Hispanic Republican voters to help diagnose what went wrong for the Republican Party in 2012. The report attempted to determine why Republicans had been so successful at the state level (they held 30 Republican governorships at the time of publication) and yet unsuccessful at the national level where the party had lost the popular vote in 5 out of the previous 6 national elections. In short, the report attempted to expand upon Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's message in telling the Republican Party to "stop being the stupid party" and instead listen to common sense policy goals and solutions. 

The autopsy report was essentially broken down into six key recommendations that the RNC hoped to implement ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Seeing as we're less than seven months away from that date, let's take a look to see how the Republican Party has done in addressing these recommendations based on how the Republican primary has gone thus far. 

Recommendation #1: The urgent need to pass immigration reform

The first recommendation centered on how Republicans were continuing to lose Latino voters, a group that saw Republicans as both unable and unwilling to address comprehensive immigration reform. Since the report came out in March of 2013, the Republican-led House has refused to move on an immigration bill, forcing President Obama to use his executive authority to help shield 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. In addition, this year's crop of presidential candidates collectively ended up taking a hard right stance on immigration. The current frontrunner, Donald Trump, has made immigration a key campaign issue of his campaign and has openly advocated for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants as well as the creation of a newly-improved border wall. This combination of congressional inaction and hateful rhetoric from the campaign trail has led to a skyrocketing Latino voter registration, something that could come into play for Democrats in swing states like Colorado and Nevada and even help to make traditional Republican strongholds like Arizona and Texas gradually become purple. 

Recommendation #2: Reach out to people of color

In addition to Latinos, African-Americans also represented a large portion of votes that came to be known as the Obama coalition. Not only were Republicans concerned about how these groups voted in 2012 but they were also concerned that these groups would continue to expand their political power moving forward. The autopsy report specifically encouraged Republicans to reach out and address issues affecting people of color. Unfortunately, they haven't been willing to do this. People of color also haven't been helped by the fact that Republicans in Congress have voted over 60 times to defund the Affordable Care Act, something that has greatly helped many working-class communities. In addition, Republicans have also voted to defund Planned Parenthood 8 separate times, an organization that does its most impactful work in low socioeconomic areas. As if those two congressional repeal efforts weren't enough, Republican-led legislatures have also aided in the attack on people of color by using the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act to implement strict voting requirements in 17 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Republican presidential candidates have also ignored the concerns of the Black Lives Matter Movement by insisting that All Lives Matter, thus dismissing the legitimate concerns of the African-American community. Ted Cruz has gone on record calling the Black Lives Matter movement "disgraceful" and frontrunner Donald Trump responded with "Maybe he should have been roughed up" in reference to a Black Lives Matter protester who had been removed from his November rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Trump also was sued by the Justice Department for discriminatory housing practices early in his career and has stated he doesn't believe President Barack Obama has done enough to improve the lives of African-Americans. 

Recommendation #3: Gradually Move Left on Gay Rights

Change scares Republicans so this recommendation had to walk a fine line. However, the moral of the recommendation was to avoid the perception of being an intolerant political party. However, after marriage equality won its historic victory in June of 2015, the celebratory moment was immediately condemned by evangelical conservatives like Ted Cruz, who called the upholding of the Affordable Care Act and the recognition of marriage equality as being "among the darkest hours of our nation." Cruz and fellow presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also made news in 2015 when they chose to support bigoted Kentucky clerk Kim Davis in her refusal to do her job and issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Throughout the Republican primary the only candidate to even express acceptance of marriage equality has been John Kasich, who has resigned to accept the Supreme Court's ruling even though he personally supports traditional marriage. In addition, nationwide there are now eight states with Republican-controlled legislatures that are considering or have already enacted restricting bathroom use for the transgender community. This issue is widely seen as the next fight for the LGBT community and we've already seen GOP frontrunner Donald Trump come out in favor of the laws, a mere twenty-four hours after having initially opposed them. 

Recommendation #4: Acknowledge Dissenting Voices

The autopsy report correctly noted that Republicans often have a problem in dealing with those who oppose them. The hope was that Republicans would be able to work with members of the Democratic Party even if they disagreed with them on policy. However, since the report came out in March of 2013, we've continued to see a Republican Congress unable to compromise with its Democratic colleagues. The most obvious example has been the fight over Judge Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination. By stating that Republicans wouldn't even consider the nomination, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has effectively proclaimed that a lame duck president should ignore his constitutional duties for the sake of the country. This despite the fact that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said that Garland "belongs on the court" and was "as good as Republicans can expect from this administration." This has caused Republican frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to also reject Garland's nomination. This blatant obstruction is coming back to haunt Republicans as 75% of Democrats feel the seat should be filled this year which very well could be a key campaign issue for Republican senators running for re-election come November.

Recommendation #5: Follow the states' lead

As mentioned, part of what the autopsy report wanted to accomplish was to figure out how Republican state success could be replicated at the national level. The report stressed the good work many Republican governors had done including presidential nominees Chris Christie and John Kasich. Unfortunately for Republicans, the GOP is currently caught up in a wave of anti-establishment sentiment and governors are now seen as being part of that establishment. Rather than having a successful state governor serve at the top of its presidential ticket, the GOP is now left with a businessman and unlikeable Tea Party senator as its two remaining hopefuls. Despite touting his record as Ohio governor, John Kasich has won only his home state and remains in the race for the sole purpose of trying to convince the Republican National Committee that he has the best shot in a general election should it come down to a brokered convention in July. Other governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker were never able to generate the kind of results that their campaigns had hoped for while Chris Christie bowed out to become a surrogate and potential vice-presidential nominee for Donald Trump. Despite having those successful Republican governorships, it's looking more and more like that success for an individual at the state level will not translate to success at the national level for Republicans during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Recommendation #6: Stop being the party of rich people

This last recommendation was mainly made as a rebuke of Mitt Romney's candidacy. By nominating a multimillionaire who stashed his money in tax havens, Romney was seen as someone out of touch by the vast majority of the American electorate. Combine that with Romney's view that "corporations are people" as well as his disdain for 47% of Americans whom he saw as greedy takers and Romney simply became unrelatable to the typical American voter struggling to make ends meet. Flash forward to 2016 and you have the leading Republican candidate as a regular blue-collar guy who was able to become a huge business success thanks to a "small loan" of $1 million from his father. Not only that, but Donald Trump is actually worth 18 times as much as Mitt Romney, making him the richest person to ever run for president, if you use the $4 billion net worth estimate provided by Forbes. Trump has also defended his use of eminent domain, even as he did so in an effort to remove a widow from her Atlantic City home in order to create a parking lot for one of his casinos, a fact that allowed Jeb Bush of all people to score political points off during a Republican debate. In fact, Trump has repeatedly referred to his personal wealth on the campaign trail as he believes both his wealth and success make him appealing to those to feel frustrated by a system that prevent them from being rich and successful just like him.  

So how does the 2016 GOP score on its autopsy report? Immigration reform and respect for Latinos? Nope. Reaching out to people of color? Not so much. Moving slightly left on gay rights? Not quite there. Acknowledging the opposition? Hell to the no. Emulating the models set in place by Republican governors? Not this year my friends. Nominating a candidate who is, I dunno, worth less than a quarter-billion dollars? Not even close.  

Zero for six. The "stupid party" has officially gotten stupider over the past three years and Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves. They built this. In doing everything they could to stymie Barack Obama, the Republican Party ended up resorting to the exact same actions that got them crushed in 2012. A refusal to act on immigration reform. An unprecedented obstruction of a Supreme Court nominee. Multiple votes to defund Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. Believe it or not, Donald Trump did not come out of the blue. In fact, he is a logical extension of this Republican philosophy. No immigration reform? Let's go further and kick out all the undocumented immigrants. No outreach to people of color? Let's go further and say that Obama has made things worse and not better for all African-Americans. A refusal to acknowledge transgender rights? Let's be honest and support that but then realize that's a party no-no so then let's go further and complement a state like North Carolina that made the right decision. Donald Trump is simply out loud saying what other Republicans have been thinking in their heads over the past three years.

And that is the most troubling thing of all. The writing is literally on the wall. Six major reasons why Republicans lost in 2012 and they haven't done a single things to address any of the six. In fact, they've made it worse. They've become more xenophobic, culturally insensitive, bigoted, and obstructionist, all in an effort to undermine President Barack Obama's legacy. Unsurprisingly, disapproval of the GOP is at the highest level since 1992. In continuing to go down this path, the GOP has created an environment where someone like Donald Trump can come along and emerge as the party's likely nominee come the general election. Should that happen, should the Republicans nominate someone more out-of-touch than Mitt Romney with a grotesque world view and no policy understanding whatsoever, then it would lead to unmitigated disaster, the likes of which could lead to the largest Democratic victory since Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in 1964. If that occurs, will be because Republicans refused to listen to themselves and conversely because they refused to listen to the American people.  

They shouldn't need an additional one-hundred page report to tell them that.

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