Will GOP Elites Ever Learn?

They’re about to do it again. 

News reports indicate that several candidates for the GOP’s presidential nomination, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul among others, are planning to attack other potential Republican presidential nominees as part of their strategy for securing the prize.  The strategy seems to be that by “bloodying up” rival candidates, Bush’s, Paul’s (or others’ for that matter) road to the nomination will be smoother.

Some GOP insiders claim Donald Trump is the biggest “perp” on this score.  (How very convenient!  The Donald is not viewed kindly by the Republican establishment, who, as Steve McCann notes, tend to be myopic.  Now they’ve got another reason to dislike him.  As Gomer Pyle put it, “Suprize!  Suprize!  Suprize!”)

Have Republican elites learned nothing from the past?  Think back to 2012, when the long and bitter contest for the GOP’s presidential pick left the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, in a much weaker condition vis-à-vis Barack Obama than he would otherwise have been.  In his efforts to defeat Romney, Obama and his handlers were able to use several of the charges against Romney that were first uttered by other GOP contestants.  (Much the same happened to earlier GOP presidential nominees such as John McCain in 2008, Bob Dole in 1996, and -- to a much lesser degree -- George H. W. Bush in 1992.)

(Maybe there’s a good reason why the GOP is called “the stupid party.”)

If the eventual Republican presidential nominee enters the general campaign for the presidency in 2016 already bloodied up by other contestants for the GOP’s prize, he or she may face a relatively unscathed Hillary Rodham Clinton, who presently seems to have the inside track in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  (I am well aware that Mrs. Clinton is weighed down by a sizable number of personal and professional scandals, but I expect that, should she emerge as the Democrat Party’s presidential nominee, the mainstream media will do everything they can to protect her.  Any GOP nominee will not be so kindly treated by them.)  

Looking back at recent history, especially the repeated assaults against GOP presidential nominees by “fellow” Republicans that have often left the party’s eventual standard-bearer much more vulnerable to attacks by his Democrat foe than he otherwise would have been, one wonders why allegedly politically savvy men and women are so short-sighted and ham-fisted.

Consider, for a moment, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who requires Republican candidates for public office to sign a pledge to oppose any new taxes.  I have no wish to criticize Norquist, who I’m sure does good work on behalf of a good cause.  Nevertheless, I wish he (and others as well) would ask Republican candidates to sign a pledge to obey Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, and “speak no ill of a fellow Republican.”

Evidently, I’m not the only one who sees this scenario developing, and is trying to prevent, or at least dampen, it.  News reports on July 7th indicate that major GOP donors have written to the 16 or so announced candidates, and asked them to abide by Reagan’s 11th Commandment.  As I understand it, at least one large donor has warned announced candidates that he will call them to task if they do not behave civilly toward other Republicans.

If Republican presidential candidates were to ape the Gipper’s 11th Commandment, and eschew negativity toward other GOP candidates, that in-and-of-itself would not guarantee victory in 2016.  But it might just make the job facing the Democrat presidential candidate, her/his handlers, and the MSM a good deal harder.

Let me explain.

First, consider the situation facing Democrat campaign operatives – i.e., the candidate and her/his consultants, aides, etc. – if all prospective GOP presidential aspirants were to eschew attacking each other.

Hark back to 2012.  Much of the fodder the Obamians used against Romney came gift-wrapped in the form of earlier attacks on the Republican standard-bearer during the run-up to the GOP nomination by other Republicans.  Never mind Harry Reid’s lies about Romney’s tax history.  The Obamians’ best slurs against the eventual GOP nominee were provided gratis by several contestants for the GOP nomination. 

Two come to mind immediately.  “Romneycare” – the government-provided health care program established in Massachusetts when Romney was governor – was held up as a precursor to Obamacare, which the Obamians made some use of during the general election campaign.  (At the least, it denied potential ammunition that Romney might have wished to use against Obamacare.)  More damning, as far as Romney’s eventual candidacy was concerned, was the charge made by Newt Gingrich, among others, that as head of Bain Capital, Romney had been a “vulture capitalist.”  The Obamians would make great use of, and elaborate on, that charge.

What’s the significance of a president’s team using charges against their opponent that had originated from the opponent’s own party?   Students of American voting behavior have long known about the electorate’s tendency to screen out, or at least severely discount, campaign charges that come entirely from one party.  As the electorate’s tendency to view any politician guardedly has risen, this tendency has become more pronounced.  If candidate X, say a Democrat, for example, levies a charge against candidate Y, who happens to be a Republican, that charge will carry less weight, and probably have less impact on the electorate, if it comes entirely from X’s campaign organization. 

On the other hand, if X levels a charge against Y, and can show that it had previously been made by members of Y’s own party, the charge is less likely to heard with jaundiced ears, and thus be less likely to be screened out or seriously discounted.

If this is true, why would Republican candidates for the Oval Office want to hand the Democrats potentially harmful material?  If there’s dirt out there -- and almost everyone has something in his/her past he/she would rather not see come to light -- let the other side’s opposition research team find it.  Under those circumstances, the best reaction is “sez you!” 

The way the MSM handle possible negative information about a Republican -- almost any Republican, but especially conservative ones -- is another good reason for Reagan’s 11th Commandment.  Consider how the MSM has used Donald Trump’s statement about illegal immigrants to tar the GOP in general, and Republican presidential candidates in particular.  (I actually cringed watching a female MSM reporter confront Mitt Romney with the query, which I’m paraphrasing, do you think Donald Trump’s attack on illegal Mexican immigrants has hurt the GOP?   Romney accepted the reporter’s premise.  Watching that exchange was like hearing someone swipe finger nails across a blackboard.)  Has anyone in the MSM asked a Democrat if the Clinton family’s scandals have harmed the Democrat Party?

There are, in short, several good reasons to abide by the Gipper’s 11th Commandment.  If nothing less, GOP presidential candidates should remember the proverbial attorney’s advice to her/his client:  the less you say, the less the other side can use against you (or anyone else, for that matter).