The author observed and chronicled the 2011-12 Primary/nomination season from inside a Super PAC: and analyzes this in his book WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again.
In typical establishment fashion, Reince Preibus and the wizards at the RNC have looked at the last Presidential nomination cycle and learned the wrong lessons. They have concluded that not allowing Mitt Romney a smooth coronation was the problem, and they are out to make sure their annointed one never has to face that again. As such, the prescriptions for change recently announced by Preibus will only make things worse. This is what happens when a national party is isolated from – and igorant of – their nation.
Yes, the debates did become a series of shameless food fights as the process unfolded – and something should be done about that. But what exactly? One might think that the establishment consultants would look in the mirror and figure out that it was they, and their candidates, who made it so. As long as the debates were focused on the problems of Obama and liberal judges, liberals in Congress, liberal academics, liberal unions and liberals in the media, the debates were awesome. We needed more of those debates. Of course, only Herman Cain, and at two different times Newt Gingrich, had this figured out.
It was precisely this strategy that propelled each to the lead in the national polls, Cain in November and early December 2011, and then Newt once in December of 2011 and again during the South Carolina Primary week in 2012. Go back and check the debate tapes and the polls if you don’t believe me. Both men hammered only the opposition, while the others threw food at each other. Who can forget the absurd over the top attacks from Michele Bachman on Rick Perry’s vaccintion program, not to mention the argument Perry and Romney had about who was mowing whose yard. I mean, we all would like to, but those images are seared into our memories.
Had any of these candidates, or their over paid under observant consultants taken a big picture look at what was going on, it would have been obvious that the voters were craving only two things: a plan for beating Obama and then a plan to undo his damage once that was accomplished. Cain and Newt, neither with any money, both rocketed to the top of the heap by doing just this and by complimenting the other Republicans. Newt was especially effective, often taking down self righteous journalists like Juan Williams and John King in the process of exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of liberalism.
The other campaigns? Not so much.
The Mitt Romney money machine, which spent 99% of their ad budget in Florida savaging Newt – while ignoring the word ‘Obama’ and even the name ‘Mitt,’ was primarily responsible. But then again, so was Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Bachman, Perry and Jon Huntsman once Newt had gained a 14 point lead in Iowa. Unfortunately, Newt responded to this surreal 6 against 1 attack poorly too, resorting to the foolish “Bain Capital” attack ads in Iowa and New Hampshire – and then joining Romney in the gutter in Florida. Ah, there’s the good Newt, but also the bad Newt.
So what happened in between New Hampshire and Florida? South Carolina happened.
And in the Palmetto State, the path to victory was demonstrated. The week of the campaign, including the Monday/Thursday debate schedule, was a week long attack by conservatism against liberalism. Newt stole the show, simply because he is better at this than any of the others, but Newt is not the point. The message is the point, and they all were on message in South Carolina. The result was a 13 point win for Newt, but more than that, it was a win for the GOP. Turn out and interest skyrocketed, with turn out exceeding 2008 turn out by 35%. They all won. Conservatism won. Liberalism lost.
The message of South Carolina was the winning message, and had Romney – or any candidate – carried that message into November, Barack Obama would likely be retired in Hawaii by now. Perhaps this is why Republicans only gain the White House when they nominate the S.C. winner. The message in S.C. was also similar to the organic message of the 2010 mid terms, and not far from the 1994 mid term message as well. Oh, for the record, those were the two best elections for Republicans in modern history.
In Florida two days later, at the Monday debate, that message was totally jettisoned however.
Mitt and the bad Newt, who clearly cannot stand each other, got into a pathetic intramural skirmish and Santorum “won” the debate by being ignored. It didn’t matter however, as Mitt’s television money overwhelmed the process, scorched the earth, and he won Florida while Newt was second. The race was over at that point for all intents and purposes. Voter turn out in Florida was lower than 2008, which is astonishing, considering that McCain won Florida in 08 by being more un-Republican than his counterparts. Turn outs continued to tank in every other state after that as Mitt ran an awful campaign of destruction – virtually calling Newt the devil before insisting that Obama is “a nice guy.” It’s also an open secret that his supporters funded Santorum’s attacks on Newt, only to savage Santorum once Newt was dispatched.
This is the GOP establishment at work in typical form: using shock and awe against conservatives while tip toeing around the real opposition.
Now there are solutions to the problems of 2012, and a great place to start would be to nix this Iowa Caucus/New Hampshire Primary start. The caucus only system in Iowa produces an oddball tiny population on single issuer voters, while the cross-over voting in New Hampshire produces results that have nothing in common with the conservative base of the nation. The net result of these two states having outsized influence is a tendency against limited government conservatives winning. This is not an accident, either.
Another easy solution would be to choose conservative media figures to moderate the debates. Preibus has finally acknowledged this as an idea, several years behind the times. Back in August 2011, I publicly advocated for moderators like Andrew Breitbart, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh. If the GOP did this, there would be a call for even more debates, and their wouldn’t be any silly intramural side shows.
But this escapes Preibus, who blames the process for the “slicing and dicing of each other” that went on in 2011-12. No Reince, it was not the process. It was the establishment, panicking because their hand picked candidate was being rejected by 75% of the base, who started and funded most of the slicing and dicing. It was the establishment, too isolated to understand that they were being played for fools by allowing liberal journalists into our debates, that promoted the slicing and dicing. The problem, as always, is the establishment – which is why establishment thinking will not make things any better in 2016.