The GOP's Future: A Republican Reflects

How Republicans regroup after Tuesday's losses will shape American politics in the coming months and years. Here's how one sees the party's future.

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What will Republicans learn from the 2012 election?

This may be the most consequential question in American politics of the weeks and months ahead. Will the GOP blame Mitt Romney for being an inept candidate? Will they point to his campaign's tactical blunders, or his ideological positioning? Will Republicans begin to confront the rhetoric and positions that have alienated women and minorities? Will they moderate on economic issues or seek a more conciliatory tone overall? Will the party base and its elites be in agreement on the way forward, or will they clash?

This conversation among GOP activists, thinkers, officeholders and consultants is only beginning. An email I received from one smart party strategist offers a thoughtful template for the coming debate:

Get ready for a bunch of party infighting over whether the loss can be attributed to Romney's being too conservative or not conservative enough, and the broader fight about whether in 2016, Republicans should nominate a conservative or a more centrist candidate. There will be a lot of time and attention spent on that debate, probably for months more, and it will completely miss out some of the major reasons Romney lost that have little or nothing to do with ideology, and which the GOP does itself a real disservice by glossing over.

First among those is Bain, and the fact that the campaign didn't do anything close to enough to pre-but, or even rebut, attacks made on Romney's business background or even acknowledge Bain as anything less than a pure positive until months after the attacks had started to hurt him (which was in the primary).

The background of most business candidates doesn't present anything close to as target-rich an environment as Romney's private equity background did, but this is a striking example of how critical it is when your candidate comes from a business background to paint a positive picture that pre-buts the obvious attacks that will be made well in advance of your opponents making them, and taking those attacks very seriously. Bain was a critical part of the Romney image that just couldn't sell to enough voters in Ohio. He came off as the guy who got rich by buying your Dad's employer, firing your Dad, stripping down the business, and making hundreds of millions and buying jet-skis and houses with car elevators and dancing horses while your Dad visits the food bank and is forced onto unemployment. The Romney team should have known this was going to be a problem; it was part of how Kennedy killed Romney, but they didn't take it very seriously at all, and in the primary, they tried to depict anyone raising concerns about this, even from a pure 'Democrats will turn this into a liability' standpoint, as a capitalism-hater.

Second, Republicans just aren't where we need to be with technology and that was decisively proven yesterday. There was a lot of good spin put on GOP 'new media' efforts in the run-up to the election, but the only real benefit derived from that will be to the consultants who got paid a lot to do something that frankly didn't match what Obama did, or get anywhere near close enough. Republicans need to take seriously the idea of identifying actual technologists and bringing them in to advise and guide the party, and quit leaving the big jobs to party hacks who have developed some technology chops but do not come out of the actual technology world.

Now, one place where the 'too conservative/not conservative enough' debate is arguably relevant, is with regard to the GOP's Hispanic problem, which we we have got to start addressing head on. It has caused us problems now in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012, and it's time for the party to take some cues from Jeb Bush and quit using rhetoric and advancing policy that comes off as, at best, not speaking to the concerns of Hispanic voters (opportunity, which encompasses education and immigration concerns) and, at worst, racist and hateful.

This is simple math. The party has to get to grips with it, and it's not enough to just showcase Hispanic Republicans and say 'See? See? You can be non-pasty white or have a last name that ends in 'ez' and still be a conservative!' It would also help in terms of maintaining good relationships with a lot of conservative activist organizations in town that Republicans really need onside. It's not like Grover Norquist and Pat Buchanan agree about immigration or trade, and that is something that's important to bear in mind, even though Romney didn't really and the hardline, more Buchanan-esque stance he adopted in the 2008 and 2012 primaries, attacking John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Rick Perry showed it.