Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't get too comfortable. The GOP could easily come back in 2016.

By Richard K. Barry

It's not that Rick Santorum will be any more credible a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 than he was in 2012. But he will continue to be the kind of hard core, socially conservative presence that will make it harder for them to compete in four years. He's not going anywhere, and neither are those who agree with him. But he is on the losing side of this battle. 

In an interview to air on Piers Morgan Tonight on Friday, Santorum said this:

What Mitt Romney, in my opinion, didn't do was go out and vigorously defend the beliefs that he said he espoused and didn't go on the offense. And when you're playing defense, which is what I believe the campaign was doing and Republicans were doing generally throughout the course of this campaign you're not going to win.

He didn't make it about those two fundamentally different visions for America and I don't think we did a very good job either as Republicans pointing out those fundamental differences and what type of freedom we're talking about.

Many experienced political campaigners will smile at the notion that the only failing of a losing campaign is that they simply didn't "get their message out there effectively." Nothing wrong with the message, but somehow the mechanics broke down.

Those who argue President Obama simply had a better ground game, or smarter campaign managers, or a better media strategy, or was a better candidate, or that there were too many GOP debates are preparing not only to run the next campaign in a way ideologically consistent with the last one but to make the same mistakes.

This is the most interesting debate going on among conservatives right now. On the one side are those who think the message needs to change. On the other side are those who see no fault in the brand, only in the delivery system.

For example, to my ear Karl Rove is among those arguing for better mechanics. He had too much invested in the last campaign to suggest it was fundamentally flawed. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is arguing for a modification of the message itself, more populist, more apparently reasonable than a Mitt Romney could offer. There seems little doubt that Jeb Bush would offer a more pragmatic, moderate, conservatism. We will see where the other come in.

Some, like those in the incredible shrinking Tea Party movement, will suggest the party should move further to the right. I would guess they will lost that fight.

Many said that Mitt Romney would have to move towards the center once the nomination was wrapped up, and though it took him until the first debate, that is what he did. That particular Mitt Romney and that Republican Party might well have won the election if they hadn't already done so much damage to themselves and if they weren't up against such an incredible candidate and campaign team.

As a exercise, listen to the way various Republicans talk about their failed effort to take back the White House.  Is it about mechanics or is it about substance? If they are able to have a substantive debate about the future of their party, if they are able to come to grips that they failed because their message was too extreme, they could made a comeback sooner than many think.

I know some Democrats are saying that demographic changes will make elections harder for the GOP in coming years, but four years is, as they say, an eternity in politics. In 1976 few of us saw a Ronald Reagan coming on the scene in 1980.

It seemed obvious to me that if the Republicans had put up a candidate in 2012 who espoused boilerplate conservative economic ideas, while tempering his social conservatism, they might have won in a walk. We know that the strength of the Tea Party movement in the 2010 midterms made it hard for anyone to run as a reasonable conservative, but that likely won't be true in 2016.

I am simply saying there is nothing inherently toxic in American politics about conservative ideas if they are not deemed too extreme. There will be a struggle to see how far from the extreme edge the GOP can drag itself in time for 2016 to be credible. I'm guessing they get it done.

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