The RNC’s Election Report

by Ramesh Ponnuru

RNC chairman Reince Priebus commissioned a report on what went wrong for the party in 2012, and it’s out today. So far the coverage has focused on the party’s plans to change the presidential primaries, but I suspect people will also be talking about the report’s embrace of “comprehensive immigration reform” — where its analysis is as superficial as I’ve ever seen — and caution to Republicans to stop talking about their opposition to same-sex marriage. (Mark Krikorian will be amused to learn that our old friend, the factoid that George W. Bush supposedly won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, makes an appearance.) I’m going to concentrate on something else: the report’s core premise, which seems to me to be false.

Here’s how the report opens: “The GOP today is a tale of two parties. One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.”

We have heard this a lot since the election. It’s much too optimistic. All Republican success at the gubernatorial level really tells us is that the party is doing fine in red states and did well in 2009–10. Take a look at the list of Republican governors. Every one of them was either elected in 2009–10 or in a state Romney carried or both. And what the 2009–10 experience tells us, like the elections of 1966, 1978, and 1994, is that Republicans usually do well when Democrats have control of both houses of Congress and the White House.

Maybe the federal party is too ideological and should mimic the pragmatic governors. There may well be something to that. But the fact that Republicans have 30 of the 50 governorships doesn’t tell us much, and the fact that the RNC report keeps returning to the claim that it does is not reassuring about its grasp of the party’s problem.