Government Watch / Politics

GOP Establishment Calls for “Return to Normal” At Its Own Peril

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

GOP

In the wake of the 2022 midterm elections, there have been calls from many key elements of the un-elected Republican party establishment – the elements which exist in think tanks, the media, and among major donors – to end the post-2015 “experiment” with conservative populism and presumably return to running “normal” Republicans, by which they seem to mean the Romney/Ryan wing who lost in 2008 and 2012.

There are countless criticisms which can be made about the performance of the Republican Party over the last six years, both electorally and in government. But debates must be comparative to have meaning. Instead, the discourse is taking place in a vacuum, where “year one” is presumably 2016, or 2015, when Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his campaign for President. What came before that is not discussed.

This selective amnesia is useful for many of those who are now speaking up, because it allows them to avoid reckoning with the same sort of self-examination of their own past failures they now call for the party to undertake. One reason why the Republican Party is even in a position to discuss the impact of the Dobbs decision on the midterms is because a majority-conservative Supreme Court existed to make that decision, something which was almost unthinkable in 2016 when everyone, including Republican Senators who held up Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Court, expected Hillary Clinton to win the election. This is not to say that the GOP is not suffering adverse consequences from things it has done, but these are consequences of its successes, not continued failure.

This was not a debate anyone expected to have in 2012. That was the year of Barack Obama’s reelection, in which journalists and other analysts could credibly claim that there might never be another Republican president due to shifting demographics. Obama seemed to have formed a solid coalition, one which was ironically stronger in the Electoral College than in the country at large. In 2012, Obama won the tipping point state by more than 6%, while winning the popular vote by 4%. If the flaw of Obama’s coalition was low turnout in midterm years, then that was something Democrats intended to bypass when they finally took control of the U.S. Supreme Court, which their supposed stranglehold on the presidency made only a matter of time.

Instead, the Republican Party’s recent performance is now being rated against a different, almost impossible standard. Critics of Donald Trump are quick to argue that the Republican Party has “lost” three elections in a row (2018, 2020, 2022) but it could just as easily be said that the party overperformed expectations in 2018 and 2020, and to the extent they “lost” 2022, it was only in not meeting expectations that were impossible given the party’s relative success in every election since 2014.

That year, the GOP of course took the House and Senate. Two years later they held both chambers of Congress and picked up the White House despite a widespread expectation among not just pollsters but both parties that the Democrats would sweep all three. Then in 2018, the GOP expanded its Senate majority with two pickups in a midterm year and won key governorships, including Florida, Georgia, and Texas. While Republicans lost the House, the margin was narrower than in 2006 or 2008.

In 2020, the GOP again unexpectedly gained 13 House seats and held Democratic Senate gains, widely predicted to be as many as six, to two. It was this poor performance which led to Democrats abandoning their dreams of a permanent majority and flirting with a “rule or ruin” approach to governing in which they would destroy whatever institutions they could not control.

It is only against these expectations–the expectations that the Trump-era pattern of GOP overperformance of the polls would continue with the former president out of office–that the 2022 results appeared a defeat. As any Democrat gazing at the 2024 map where their best targets are North Carolina, Texas, and Florida can bemoan, “One more such ‘victory’ and we are ruined!”

There were of course problems with the GOP’s performance in 2022. But they were problems inherent to the GOP’s new coalition, which is sturdier and better distributed in presidential elections, but less prone to turn-out in midterms. The analysis by most mainstream outlets following this year’s elections, however, has focused on the defects of the new coalition, not its strengths.

It is tempting to pretend that the reason the exurbs have trended against Republicans since 2016 is because of one man, Donald Trump. If that is the case, all the party has to do is to change faces and magically trends will reverse themselves. This is what Democrats told themselves after 2016, when they responded to Hillary Clinton’s loss of states Obama won such as Iowa, Ohio, and Florida with the conviction that those states were just voting against Hillary Clinton, and once she was off the ballot they would resume voting the way they had in 2008 and 2012. They maintained that belief through setbacks in 2018 until the 2020 results finally led them to conclude that those trends were not just a result of one candidate.

Republicans risk making the same error. Donald Trump was not merely a candidate, but a coalition. His coalition was also a rejection of another coalition, that of Mitt Romney, who had sought to build a traditional center-right alliance of the successful and well-off across racial and geographical lines. The problem with the strategy was highlighted by Romney himself when he made his infamous gaffe about the “47%,” suggesting that there was a large portion of Americans who did not see themselves as “winners” in the economic and social changes sweeping the globe.

This problem was exacerbated by another. By definition, the “winners” were doing relatively well. They might have had complaints about specific ways the system was being run, but ultimately they were still doing well under the system. This was a key oversight by Mitt Romney, as he was running against an incumbent president in Barack Obama on a platform which attempted to appeal to those who wanted more from Obama’s policies (rich professionals, hedge fund managers) while ignoring those who actually were losing (those who suffered from free trade, or unchecked immigration). It is a lesson the GOP should keep in mind when considering a pivot before 2024. Joe Biden, after all, will be an incumbent if he runs again.

The GOP should remember that its strategy in 2008 and 2012 did not work and structurally is unlikely to ever work. Arguably, the approach of attempting to form a traditional majority of the “winners” has never worked particularly well for the GOP in the post-Cold War era. It produced defeats in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012, one accidental win in 2000, and one win fueled by patriotic hysteria in 2004 which was far narrower than it should have been. Had 1% of voters flipped between John Kerry and George W. Bush in Ohio, Bush would have lost.

As much as the concept of an “Emerging Democratic Majority” is now mocked, it was not entirely fanciful in 2012. The error made by analysts was to assume that this was an “Emerging Democratic Majority” rather than the existing Bush GOP coalition becoming a “minority”. Quite simply, the Bush coalition, built in 2004 on winning voters in the fastest growing communities in the country, relied on a “coalition of ascendent” looking like conservatives. That meant accumulating wealth and property which they wished to conserve, as well as families they wished to protect. Post-2008, home ownership became a more distant aspiration for millennials than for previous generations, one which became achievable only in specific geographic areas. The collapse of the Republican Party in New England and the West Coast has a number of causes, but more than any position on social issues, the fact that there are no houses to buy is a key factor. Without the ability to accumulate wealth in property, the social fabric upon which any center-right party relies ceased to exist. For all the focus on Midwesterners suffering under free trade, the difference between Colorado and Texas is the latter has reasonably affordable homes for families. 

Racial polarization was another issue. That Donald Trump and other Republicans managed to cut through racial polarization in ways antithetical to the 2012 autopsy to win unprecedented numbers of non-white voters did not mean that the electorate was not racially polarized in the 1990s and 2000s.

Before Donald Trump, the GOP therefore was left with a coalition which could only narrowly win national elections in unique circumstances, and which was shrinking every year as home ownership and marriage declined and demographic groups Mitt Romney had written off as part of the 47% increased steadily.

The GOP’s post-2012 autopsy ignored almost all of this. It ignored any underlying economic trends, or how they might be interacting with social or ethnic voting behavior. For the RNC officials conducting the autopsy, the idea that voters might be moving “left” on economic policy in response to actual changes in their standard of living or the economy was inconceivable. Social issue positions were viewed not as a product of the social environment of voters (say, that individuals who own homes in local communities are more likely to attend Church) but rather as a matter of individual preference which emerged from ether. The only numbers the RNC engaged with were racial breakdowns of voting patterns. Every racial group other than “whites” was then reduced to a caricatured stereotype, and the answer to winning their votes was said to be to shift on a single issue, one which conveniently lined up with what entrenched GOP elites already wanted.

Inquiries such as the 2012 Republican autopsy are not designed to learn the truth, but to produce the answers those asking the questions want to hear. The Republican National Committee was dominated by entrenched interests who were invested in the GOP’s neoconservative foreign policy, and pro-corporate, pro-free trade economic policies. Any suggestion that support for endless wars in the Middle East might be a liability with voters would undermine the position of the GOP foreign policy establishment. Any conclusion which implied that support for free trade was an obstacle to the Republican Party winning the Rust Belt, or that Social Security privatization was an effective Democratic boogeyman, would have placed the blame for defeat squarely on the shoulders of the Romney-Ryan Republican establishment.

So instead, the inquiry started from the premise of what those who ran the party wanted to promote, but were previously unable to do because the grassroots, actual GOP voters, resisted. Corporate America needed amnesty and a guest worker program, and absolutely could not risk tariffs. Against all evidence, the autopsy found that Americans hated Social Security and wished for it to be privatized. Somehow, despite the flop of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s efforts to weaponize Obama’s line of “you didn’t build that,” the autopsy concluded there was some secret majority which believed globalist elites were “producers” and better than them.

In short, much like the establishment’s reaction to the 2022 midterms, the 2012 autopsy was not an autopsy at all, but the product of various party elites and factions consulting each other, and then announcing that what they wanted was somehow what the voters wanted, despite much evidence to the contrary. Their conclusions offered everything to Washington and nothing to America. It was not merely Republican primary voters who were offered nothing—nothing on healthcare, housing, creating future jobs, crime, or immigration. It was all other voters as well. The message the GOP establishment wanted to promote would have lost in 2016, just as it had in 2012.

In fairness to the GOP candidates other than Donald Trump, the autopsy’s flaws were so apparent that none of them seriously adopted it as a platform. But most Republicans who ran in 2016 were nonetheless products of the same Overton window. Until Donald Trump broke with the consensus in the South Carolina debate, every candidate maintained that George W. Bush had been correct to go into Iraq, and that, if anything, Obama had not been aggressive enough against Syria and Russia. They all defended a college-freshman understanding of economics in which the abstract concept of free trade always made everyone richer, government spending and regulation of private companies was always bad, and the experts knew best. It was a catechism, not a platform for governing.

The GOP has problems, but they are the problems of keeping together a coalition while trying to produce a policy platform that can solve America’s problems.

The temptation is always to blame the messenger, in this case Donald Trump. In fact, while Donald Trump’s skills as a messenger may have allowed him to change the message, the much bigger transformation was that his new message changed the party’s coalition. Moving forward, the GOP needs to either win with the Trump 2020 coalition or chose a different one. There is no magical man, not even a political star like Ron DeSantis, who can run on Mitt Romney’s message yet win Donald Trump’s voters, or vice versa. We saw earlier this month that voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are willing to vote for Democrats. A pivot back to free-trade, pro-corporate, exurban, country club conservatism will merely take Republicans back to where they were in 2012—losing, and with dwindling prospects for the future.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.


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Teri Brezin
10 days ago

I would really like to know just how much the RINOs were paid, OR, how much were they blackmailed, in order for so many CORRUPT demonrats to win the ’22 elections?
So very many people were so very fed up with the corruption in the D(istrict). of C(ommunism)., that the fraud that took place (see the AZ lawsuits, PAs Fetterman (festeredman?), NY, MI, etc., was obvious to us. The UNIPARTY did it again!?!??!
The biden and his REGIME spew continual HATE toward anyone who does not agree with them. They have waltzed over all of the Constitution with total disregard and are probably it as toilet paper.
They insist that they are against “HATE SPEECH”, yet the hate that flows from them to the citizens of what’s left of the United States of America, is so very blatant that I cannot figure out how they are not yet in GITMO?!?!?!
I pray daily and nightly for freedom from this evil in our country, but OUR country needs a lot more people praying for it!

DanM
12 days ago

Drain the Swamp! Federal government has gotten way too big and going where it does not belong. Its power must be limited to what is outlined in the Constitution and nothing more. Now it is not even enforcing the laws it is required to while dictating that we all get vaxed, use the correct pronouns, and teach our children that America is racist, and they can be whatever sex they want to be.

Jess Sain
12 days ago

Status quo is the hallmark of RINO republicans and DC in general. DC is the enemy, don’t you ever forget it

Glen
12 days ago

Republican Establishment ==== RINO. RINO’S talked and talked about doing away with Obama-Care (aka Socialist Medical Care) Just like the National Health Service in the UK that led UK people with the money to come to America for proper health care (Before Obama-care) DITTO Canada. I said all that to say when the RINO’S had the majority — THEY DID NOTHING!!!
We have a handful of Conservative (Real Republicans) in the House and Senate, and because the RINO’s outnumber them NOTHING will be done in future!!!!
I voted for Republicans and a couple of RINO’S because I refuse to vote for the Democrat/Socialist/Communist party platform of Pro China, Pro Socialist, Pro Communist Baby Killers who are bent on the destruction of our CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC!!!
For those of you out there who are not familiar with the “World Economic Forum”, “Council on Foreign Relations”, Trilateral Commission”, and “Bilderbergers” you need to do some research and discover who is actually running the USA and the World. The people you think are in power are just “PUPPETS”

Steven Ruzek
13 days ago

Why do RINOs think we want them to “reach across the aisle” and work together? They are 100% out of touch with the base. This author nailed it. RINOs are in it for themselves and not for the country.

tempus
13 days ago

Many people support protective tariffs because they believe that the tariffs will protect jobs and raise wages. If tariffs raise wages and protect jobs, it is only for those in the protected industries — and because of immigration, they may not even do that. However, they raise prices for everyone and, by that, they reduce the standard of living.
Historically, manufacturers have been the proponents of protective tariffs. They want protected markets for their inefficient companies. Also, they have been big supporters of large-scale immigration to suppress wages. Increasing the supply of workers suppresses wages and thwarts innovation.
If people want to raise wages, they should severely restrict immigration. Fewer workers lead to higher wages and innovations that lower the cost of production. Moreover, immigration restrictions do so without increasing the cost of living.

Lee B
13 days ago

For all President Trump was or wasn’t, the one thing he did very well is get out the flashlight and shine it on the cockroaches in Washington. They have been exposed and scattering ever since. This changed the entire dynamic of politics in this country. The GOP is going to have to adapt and get going. The Dems have nothing to lose at this point – they are fully exposed to the light of day and are not bashful in using every tool and trick in the war chest to attempt to overturn the republic for which we stand. Old ways did not and will not work. If the GOP can’t or won’t do it, then we need to fire them and generate an American Party who will. We have to be hard and mean when necessary. We seem to have stopped the Star Spangled Banner at the first verse. We should have all sports activities use the fourth verse until further notice.

Robert Zuccaro
13 days ago

Thank God it only takes one hand to vote so I can hold my nose with the other.

Wickedness
13 days ago

Call your senators to let them know that you stand for marriage as 1 man and 1 woman only!!! The senators are voting on this misnamed Defense of Marriage Act November 28th. Please act now if you want to keep your rights and freedoms!!! Thank You!!!

Wickedness
13 days ago

RINOS unite with the democrat/communists to destroy and pilfer America!!! Ernst-IA, Portman-OH, Tillis-NC, Blunt-MO, Murkowski-AK, Sullivan-AK, Collins-ME, Capito-WV, Young-IN, Romney-UT, McConnell, to name some of the destroy America’s Judeo-Christian heritage with the Destroy Respect for Marriage Act, that will destroy Christian charities and churches!!!

Rik
13 days ago

The McConnell/Romney led Republicans ARE ALL GUILTY OF COMPLIANCE in DESTROYING THE FREEDOMS OF WE THE PEOPLE and they ALL SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM OFFICE IMMEDIATELY!

Pcar
12 days ago
Reply to  Rik

I believe the word you are looking for is traitors.

Westhus
15 days ago

The GOP Establishment doesn’t recognize the fact that the Communists don’t see them as simply adversaries or competitors, but as enemies. The Communists view everyone who doesn’t agree with them as enemies who must be eliminated completely, not just voted out of power. I switched my voter registration from GOP to Independent many years ago because of this fact and although I would never vote for someone with a D after their name at any level of government, the GOP doesn’t get my automatic endorsement of people like Collins, McConnell, Murkowski or Romney. Further, the failures of the GOP under Paul Ryan’s House Speakership tenure have resulted in so much pain for everyday Americans that the GOP Establishment just needs to shut up and for once, do what’s right when they govern. No more ‘reaching across the aisle’ or trying to appease the Beltway media rabble so they continue to be invited to cocktail parties in DC, but truly leading and doing the right thing for the country.

Sid
15 days ago

Or are Pennsylvania, Michigan

Mthugger
15 days ago

I believe it is very important to remember that in 2020, the establishment republicans, such as Bush, supported Biden rather than Trump. There is no denying Trump did a lot for America/Americans and the establishment republicans want status quo rather than success and strength for America. Vote them out!

Coonie
13 days ago
Reply to  Mthugger

establishment republicans = rinos , bad as demonrats ! imo

Barbara S
15 days ago

As a humble conservative voter I would like to give you my opinion. Romney, Bush, Ryan and that crowd are not even close to Republicans. I have separated myself from the Republican Party after Bush’s 2nd term when he inexplicably became a turncoat. We had a Congress that was basically Republican and they did nothing. Trump was a fantastic president but his time has come and gone partially through his own doing. Please don’t drag out any of the old losers.

Stacy Stone
15 days ago

Just so everyone knows Ronna McDaniel (Mitt Romney Neice) is on vacation and in January she plans to have votes to be Chairman AGAIN but it is three votes in each state so call RNC in your home state and tell them no way. RNC, GOP left Arizona yesterday and RNC said to abandon AZ GOP Candidates so do not ever donate to GOP, RNC but ONLY give to your CANDIDATE!! Call☎️YOUR State RNC GOP but be nice but be very Frank about what happens if we lose Arizona after America and World knows we Won not just AZ but many places then Elections are over because humans are about reality and are not stupid, we see Ronna took money from her payoff in 2020

JoBee
15 days ago

Are you not even addressing the rotten election standards in PA, MI, AZ, CA and Wisconsin?

AlfromFl
15 days ago

Normal Republicans? The wave of the future is certainly not in the direction of the Washington establishment. We have, basically, two political parties: one that envisions an American as envisioned by the Founding Fathers and one that intends to destroy it by fundamentally transforming it (Marxism). And the GOP can’t win in that environment?

AlfromFl
15 days ago

McConnell and the rest of the GOP estab have not learned how to win in the current voting environment. They need to change their tactics to consider early voting and mail in voting, so they don’t get outmaneuvered. Also, it appears, the younger population is starting to show up and we are going to have to undo the last two decades of progressive propaganda. This mid term, from a policy/issue point of view, was an automatic win for the GOP, yet the so-called red wave didn’t happen. It wasn’t the poor candidates, or Pres Trump or populism that edged out the GOP, it was, in the main, the lack of learning how to cope with the current voting environment.

K
15 days ago

The biggest thing I believe that is a problem is no one has ever dealt with problems with in the United States on a Business Level. Yes we have to deal with Foreign Countries. However we deal with most of them in a you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. President Trump dealt with the problems with in the United States as a business man not everything is meant to be dealt with politically!!!Everyone Who Is A Legalized Citizen Needs To Do Their Own Research On Candidates And How They Voted On Issues In Congress, What Candidates Supported. Understand What A True Conservative Looks like! Get Rid Of The Rhinos, Like Romney.

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