Politics & Policy

No Wave for the GOP

GOP’s Oregon senate candidate Monica Wehby
Republicans need to fire the consultants who urge the party to mute social issues.

The latest polls suggest the GOP now has only a 50–­50 chance of retaking the Senate. 

There needs to be a mass layoff — of highly paid GOP consultants. Otherwise we risk a repeat of 2012, when overconfident Republicans in the middle of the worst economy since the 1970s became convinced that all they had to do to win was not be Obama. And they lost.

Romney’s strategy was simple. On the social issues, avoid, downplay, mute. On the economic issues, sound vague, promise to help job creators, and wait for the other team to self-destruct.

The RNC’s “autopsy” of the 2012 election reinforced the idea that doing more of what didn’t work would be the pathway to victory. If only we add more women and more diverse ethnicities to the GOP ticket while avoiding Akin-esque gaffes, we can win. “Don’t do stupid stuff,” while always good advice, is no more a winning strategy for the GOP than it is a foreign policy for a great nation.

It didn’t work then, and it is not working now.

In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove acknowledged that despite the horrible environment for Democrats “a GOP senate majority is still in doubt.” Why? The Architect is convinced that his model is sound — donors just need to open their wallets to the consultants to script more TV ads.

While Democrats are out-spending Republicans, and GOP donors should take notice and correct this, the relatively narrow spending gap would not make the difference in a wave election.

Take Monica Wehby’s struggling campaign in Oregon. The state is an outlier for Republicans today, so a Wehby victory there would represent a profound rejection of Democrats. Perhaps that is not to be expected. But she is the perfect test case for the RNC “autopsy” strategy: an attractive professional single mom who is pro-choice, and now pro–gay marriage. The Koch brothers have spent $1.6 million in TV ads, and yet Wehby’s poll numbers show she is losing ground. I think economic ads like this one are part of the reason why:

“Small business” polls better than big business does, but it is still a business-first economic message, reinforcing the idea that Republicans do not know or care what average middle-class workers are going through.

Now in a Hail Mary pass, Wehby is actually spending her own money to tout her conversion from silence on gay marriage to a full pro-gay-marriage position. She’s airing an ad that features the union ceremony of two men who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit asking the courts to overturn the state’s marriage amendment.

Expecting Monica Wehby to win in Oregon might be expecting too much. But how come this poster child for the RNC’s supposedly winning “autopsy” strategy can’t seem to move the dial closer with actual voters? What will it take to get donors to reject consultants whose advice fails? 

The Romney strategy failed in 2012. And regardless of whether or not Republicans narrowly retake the Senate this November, the neo-Romney strategy is in danger of failing massively to deliver what America really needs in 2014: a “wave election” in which the country definitively rejects the Obamanomics that are strangling average Americans’ economic prospects while producing a Wall Street boomlet. Wall Street, with its downside subsidized by taxpayers, is getting richer and donating money to the Democrats. The great middle class feels our dream dying, and most people aren’t sure why.

And too many GOP candidates, listening to consultants who get paid whether or not the candidates lose, and listening to the donors who foolishly continue to believe the consultants, are reenacting a failing strategy before our eyes.

— Maggie Gallagher, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, writes at MaggieGallagher.com.

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