Can the Republican Party be saved?

Daily Caller News Foundation

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author

In a gesture that only the truly cynical could fully appreciate, the chairperson of the Republican National Committee (RNC) recently announced the creation of an advisory council to examine why the organization she has led for six years tripped over its shoelaces in the most recent election.

It’s not complicated: the institutional Republican Party doesn’t seem to care about winning. Despite underperforming in three consecutive cycles, the leaders who make up the RNC are about to re-elect — probably by an overwhelming margin — its chairperson, who has led the RNC during those three most recent, most disappointing election cycles.

That’s not the sort of thing a serious, competitive organization does.

With respect to the mundane mechanics of campaigns, the party failed to address three problems this cycle.

First, there was too much former President Donald Trump.

The ubiquitous problem of Mr. Trump presents in two different dimensions — candidate quality and defending democracy.

“Defending democracy” has become shorthand for “Orange man bad.” It is a catch-all that describes the atmospherics and reactions that Mr. Trump elicits. Complaints about candidate quality are really complaints about Mr. Trump’s presence.

What can the advisory council possibly say about Mr. Trump’s presence? We need more of it? We need less of it? What difference would any of that make? Mr. Trump is supported by somewhere between 25 and 50 million Americans, most of whom vote in Republican primaries.

Until that changes, he will pretty much do what he wants in American politics. That extends to the Republican Party: in 2016 he installed the current RNC chairperson, the same chairperson who will be overseeing the examination of the underperformance of the organization she has run for six years.

Second, there was no positive agenda.

It is almost always impossible to defeat something with nothing. Usually, the party out of power offers a few thoughts on what they might do if given the reins.

Not the Republicans. For six long years they have refused to put anything in writing that might be construed as a governing idea. Indeed, efforts to do so have been slapped down, most pointedly by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the senior-most elected official in the national party, who said somewhat archly that the voters would need to give Republicans power before the party would disclose its agenda.

The voters obviously (and probably wisely) decided against taking that risk.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Senate Republicans managed to fritter away the opportunity to pick meaningful fights with the ruling party in the two years prior to the 2022 election. In some cases (CHIPS, infrastructure, and the mismanaged process that led to the IRA) they actually assisted the ruling party in achieving its goals.

Consequently, it is reasonable for voters to have questions about what and who, exactly, the Republicans (especially those in the Senate) care about. Those questions are not likely to be put to bed by the recent, embarrassing failure of the Senate Republicans to defend religious freedom in the Respect for Marriage Act.

Forget about the quality of candidates; Republicans should worry about the quality of their elected officials.

Third, abortion was a more potent issue during this cycle than anticipated, running second only to inflation in concerns mentioned in exit polling. Republican campaigns, managed by consultants who had spent most of their professional careers running campaigns that studiously avoided abortion, had little idea how to frame the issue or talk about it. That was costly.

There is some balm to be found in remembering that in politics it is common to incur short-term electoral damage to achieve a significant policy victory. In the wake of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Democrats lost 63 seats in the House.

No one can remember what that Congress did with its shiny new Republican majority, but Obamacare remains the law of the land.

So, it is likely to be with Dobbs. The victory will remain long after the temporary electoral damage is forgotten.

Who would be willing to trade the Dobbs decision — which conservatives have been steadily working towards for 30 years — for a few more (likely) disappointing Republican Members of Congress that would be here for a moment and then forgotten forever?

Which brings us back to the analysis of what ails Republicans. The intellectual sclerosis and rot among the party’s institutions are pervasive and have many causes — too many consultants, too many elected officials who care only about their own aggrandizement, not enough basic competence, too much indifference to the voters who have no other acceptable alternative.

It will be interesting to see whether the new advisory council will address any of that and whether the chairperson will do the right thing and resign and let someone else give it a try

Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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