LESSONS LEARNED FROM 2012:
Gingrich Productions spent from mid-November 2012 through the summer of 2013 developing a Lessons Learned approach to understanding the 2012 election.
The GP analysis was parallel to the review undertaken by Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee and was developed in collaboration with the RNC effort.
The Gingrich Production conclusions were that the American political scene had changed in a variety of key ways. These changes are far broader and deeper than mere technical or structural changes in the campaign system.
Republican consultants and Republican candidates ( including most incumbents) are operating with a set of ideas and a model of America which is simply obsolete.
The necessary depth of change in the way Republicans think about America, winning elections and governing is profound.
In the absence of that change there is a grave danger that Republicans could slide into being a minority party again.
Performance failures are not enough to beat incumbent machines. There has to be a viable alternative.
Detroit failed for at least a third of a century and the Democrats were unchallenged. Chicago has been reliably Democratic no matter the performance of the Mayor and City Council. New York, Illinois, and California are increasingly out of play even when the Democrats have a scandal or create a mess.
There is a grave danger that a Republican Party which fails to come to grips with profound changes in American society and culture will gradually become unacceptable to a majority of Americans. Democrats and much of the media will actively seek to describe Republicans in ways which make being or voting Republican unthinkable for millions of Americans.
The following lessons learned are a prelude to designing a strategy to break out from the threat of isolation, unacceptability and a generation or more of minority status.
1. Republicans were hurt by a focus on negative, past-focused campaigning rather than a positive, future-focused one. We ceded the future to Obama and the Democrats and have paid the price. We need a new positive vision of Breaking out of the “New Normal” that allows us to be the party of the future with the other side the party defending the past. This will be especially important if Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee. An attack focused negative campaign against Hillary Clinton will fail as it did in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012. A campaign focused on a better future can beat Hillary but a negative focus on Hillary will thrill the base but will almost certainly lose. As a party we have become so focused on opposing Democrats that we don’t know how to promote our own ideas – it is a huge structural flaw promulgated and routinely reapplied by our political campaigns (simply count the number of negative versus positive ads and attack speeches versus solutions speeches).
2. There is a steady increase in African American, Latino and Asian American votes. The Republican Party in its current approach has no ability to win a majority in any of the three groups. California is a formidable warning of the country simply becoming unreachable by traditional Republican approaches. Losing 74% of the Asian American vote in 2012 may have been the most sobering event of all. Republicans have to consolidate and sustain their base but by itself the base will never lead to a future majority. A base plus strategy is essential.
3. Younger Americans are growing up in a very different world from their parents and a remarkably, in some ways unimaginably, different world than their grandparents. The political dialogue of the last thirty years is in many ways a turnoff to younger voters and Republican efforts to keep falling back on old ideas and old language in old media makes it harder to reach them.
4. Many of the entrepreneurs and other pioneers of the future are young. They will develop breakout technologies such as digital payments, online shipping, online education and so forth. They could be source of future leaders. A program knitting together the next generation of entrepreneurs and pioneers could bring into the Republican Party an enormous enhancement of ideas, energy, resources, and enthusiasm.
5. The explosion of social media and micro communications is destroying many of the traditional messaging assumptions of Republican consultants. Republicans need a much richer dialogue about a wider range of issues interacting with a lot of smart, self motivated and pretty well educated Americans.
6. The rise of permanently single people who have no interest in marriage and intend to spend their lives on their own is creating a new set of interests and ideas which are largely outside the traditional Republican policies and play virtually no part in Republican communications or policy development.
7. The gridlock in Washington and the failure of reform in large states like California, Illinois, and New York are indicators of the bankruptcy of the political ideas of the last 20 years. A new model with new solutions is essential if the Republican Party is to govern effectively and remain in power for a long time.
8. The gap between the breakthroughs being developed by the pioneers of the future and the understanding of politicians, government, and the political news media has created a tremendous opportunity. it will be possible to develop a new coalition and have a new conversation offering new proposals that could enable us to leap beyond gridlock into a very dynamic solution oriented and entrepreneurial future. Republican leaders will have to practice listen-learn-help-lead. We don’t know enough to lead today. Furthermore, trying to sell old policies designed in a different world guarantees younger people will simply refuse to listen or participate.
9. Communicating this new model of breakout and educating a wide range of people into what it means and how it can be effective is the greatest single domestic challenge of our time. Breakout allows the GOP to develop new themes and reinvent itself to its future customer base with new language, new solutions, and new personalities. With modern social media it is possible to have 311,000,000 unique conversations so every citizen is engaged in improving their own life.
10. California should be a testing lab for breakout ideas developed by GOP. It is clear the old order cannot compete in California. The GOP should look for new leaders to develop and grow a California breakout plan. It has to begin by recruiting young people, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans. A California plan that relied heavily on social media and new solutions within a new framework could start a conversation which over the next two or three elections begins to change California politics. No single step is more powerful than making California competitive again. It puts the Democrats at a disadvantage in the electoral college and increase the GOP advantage in the House of Representatives.
11. Younger Americans are growing up in a world which combines dramatic technological empowerment through smart phones,etc, a “new normal” economy which is very frustrating and even frightening, and cultural changes which are giving young people much wider range of career choices than any time in the last century. Younger Americans caught between college loans and underemployment, increasingly used to personalized communications and surrounded by big government red tape and bureaucracies could create a new conversation that swings the country dramatically away from supporting big government.
12. Chairman Priebus and the RNC have made significant strides toward combining the new mediums of the Internet and twitter with traditional face to face vote canvassing. However the use of social media has to permeate Republican activities. Whether it is communicating with younger Americans nationally or growing a new expanded California GOP, the use of social media has to massively increase. Electronic neighborhoods and electronic intimacy have to replace much of the face to face traditional methods which still dominate Republican thinking.
13. There is a very deep wave of discontent with the establishment building among the American people. Their frustration with failed leadership is growing. The bad economy, high taxes, growing red tape, disfunction in Washington, painful failures overseas, and a general sense of failing to solve our problems while protecting the rich and big institutions have all combined to create a powerful mood of anger and alienation. The 85% who opposed involvement in the Syrian civil war may be the biggest anti-intervention majority since before Pearl Harbor in December,1941. The recall of two safe Democratic state senators in Colorado was triggered by a gun control bill but achieved victory by bringing together a wide range of alienated, angry people. The recent Republican victory in the California legislature in a heavily Hispanic district was a rebellion of unemployment anger against the Sacramento- Sierra Club establishment. The depth of anger toward reports that members of Congress and their staffs will be exempted from Obamacare is another example. Unless it responds to this anger the Republican establishment may be as vulnerable to this wave as the Democrats.
14. This scale of change will be hard, take a lot of learning and thinking, require experiments that won’t always work and require a lot of leaders to give up on ideas that worked for their whole career in order to be effective in this new American reality. The alternative will be a Hillary Clinton Presidency and the real danger of a long term minority status for the GOP.
15. Finally, the ultimate test is our ability to explain how people’s lives and their family’s life will be better with our approach. People are tired of vague generalizations that can be summed up as ” politics as usual.” Americans are frustrated, worried and many are suffering. How will their world be better if Republicans win. The purpose of a political party is to govern, to achieve things, to get something good done. Describing the practical positive good that will come from a better world achieved through Republican governance would be the ultimate breakout from where Republicans are today. Victory at that message would set the stage for governing and actually getting things done. Success at getting the right things done could cement a Republican majority for a generation or more.