Reince's Solutions Miss the Mark
In typical establishment fashion, Reince Priebus and the wizards at the RNC have looked at the last presidential nomination cycle and learned the wrong lessons. They have concluded that not allowing Mitt Romney a smooth coronation was the problem, and they are out to make sure their anointed one never has to face that again. As such, the prescriptions for change recently announced by Priebus will only make things worse. This is what happens when a national party is isolated from -- and igorant of -- its nation.
Yes, the debates did become a series of shameless food fights as the process unfolded -- and something should be done about that. But what exactly? One might think that the establishment consultants would look in the mirror and figure out that it was they, and their candidates, who made it so. As long as the debates were focused on the problems of Obama and liberal judges, liberals in Congress, liberal academics, liberal unions, and liberals in the media, the debates were awesome. We needed more of those debates. Of course, only Herman Cain, and at two different times Newt Gingrich, had this figured out.
It was precisely this strategy that propelled each to the lead in the national polls -- Cain in November and early December 2011, and then Newt once in December of 2011 and again during the South Carolina primary week in 2012. Both men hammered only the opposition, while the others threw food at each other. Who can forget the absurd over-the-top attacks from Michele Bachmann on Rick Perry's vaccination program, not to mention the argument Perry and Romney had about who was mowing whose yard?
Had any of these candidates, or their overpaid, under-observant consultants, taken a big-picture look at what was going on, it would have been obvious that the voters were craving only two things: a plan for beating Obama, and then a plan to undo his damage once that was accomplished. Cain and Newt, neither with any money, both rocketed to the top of the heap by doing just this and by complimenting the other Republicans. Newt was especially effective, often taking down self-righteous journalists like Juan Williams and John King in the process of exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of liberalism.
The other campaigns? Not so much.
The Mitt Romney money machine, which spent 99% of its ad budget in Florida savaging Newt -- while ignoring the word "Obama" and even the name "Mitt" -- was primarily responsible. But then again, so were Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, and Jon Huntsman once Newt had gained a 14-point lead in Iowa. Unfortunately, Newt responded to this surreal 6-against-1 attack poorly, too, resorting to the foolish "Bain Capital" attack ads in Iowa and New Hampshire -- and then joining Romney in the gutter in Florida.
So what happened in between New Hampshire and Florida? South Carolina happened.
And in the Palmetto State, the path to victory was demonstrated. The week of the campaign, including the Monday/Thursday debate schedule, was a week-long attack by conservatism against liberalism. Newt stole the show, simply because he is better at this than any of the others, but Newt is not the point. The message is the point, and they all were on message in South Carolina. The result was a 13-point win for Newt, but more than that, it was a win for the GOP. Turnout and interest skyrocketed, with the former exceeding 2008 by 35%. They all won. Conservatism won. Liberalism lost.
The message of South Carolina was the winning message, and had Romney -- or any candidate -- carried that message into November, Barack Obama would likely be retired in Hawaii by now. Perhaps this is why Republicans gain the White House only when they nominate the S.C. winner. The message in S.C. was also similar to the organic message of the 2010 midterms, and not far from the 1994 midterm message as well. (For the record, those were the two best elections for Republicans in modern history.)
In Florida two days later, at the Monday debate, that message was totally jettisoned.
In fact, Florida, and the entire campaign thereafter, showed the GOP establishment at work in typical form: using shock and awe against conservatives while tiptoeing around the real opposition.
Now, there are solutions to the problems of 2012, and a great place to start would be to nix this Iowa Caucus/New Hampshire primary start. The "caucus only" system in Iowa produces an oddball tiny population of single-issuer voters, while the crossover voting in New Hampshire produces results that have nothing in common with the conservative base of the nation. The net result of these two states having outsized influence is a tendency against limited-government conservatives winning.
This is not an accident, either.
Another easy solution would be to choose conservative media figures to moderate the debates. Priebus has finally acknowledged this as an idea, several years behind the times. Back in August 2011, I publicly advocated for moderators like Andrew Breitbart, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh. If the GOP did this, there would be a call for even more debates, and there wouldn't be any silly intramural sideshows.
But this escapes Priebus, who blames the process for the "slicing and dicing of each other" that went on in 2011-12. No, Reince, it was not the process. It was the establishment, panicking because their hand-picked candidate was being rejected by 75% of the base. It was the establishment, too isolated to understand that they were being played for fools by allowing liberal journalists into our debates, that promoted the slicing and dicing. The problem, as always, is the establishment -- which is why establishment thinking will not make things any better in 2016.
The author observed and chronicled the 2011-12 Primary/nomination season from inside a Super PAC: and analyzes this in his book WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost...Again.