Commentary Magazine


Topic: Reince Preibus

Candidates, Not Message or Tactics, Will Determine 2016 Outcome

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus deserves kudos from his party for the exhaustive report produced by his staff about what the party needs to do to recover from its defeat last November. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” is must reading for Republicans who continue to grouse about the party’s problems amid recriminations about Mitt Romney’s loss. It contains valuable insights that ought to be heeded by conservatives about how to win elections in the future. Its sections on messaging, fundraising, voter registration, technology, turnout efforts, outreach to neglected sections of the electorate like Hispanics and youth voters and candidate selection all reflect both an honest assessment of what went wrong and what needs be done in the future to ensure the GOP returns to majority status. Other suggestions like limiting presidential candidate debates during the primaries, streamlining the nominating process and moving up the date of the national convention are also smart.

It’s not clear yet whether ornery conservatives who resent the idea of a party rebranding will now start calling Preibus a RINO for suggesting some things have to change if a Republican is going to win the White House in the foreseeable future. To the extent that they believe–as some speakers at CPAC seemed to suggest–all the GOP needs to do is to ignore the problems and simply be more faithful to conservative ideology, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson wrote in their seminal article on the future of the Republicans in the March issue of COMMENTARY (which was quoted in the RNC report), serious thought must be given to rethinking the way the party approaches elections and some issues without abandoning its principles.

But the debate about this necessary report should not overlook one salient fact. No matter how smart the Republicans get in the next four years, they won’t win the presidency back until they nominate a better candidate than their opponents. That may seem to be such an obvious conclusion that it doesn’t merit discussion, let alone debate. But even as Republicans are rightly urged to heed the conclusions of the RNC report, it is still worth remembering.

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Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus deserves kudos from his party for the exhaustive report produced by his staff about what the party needs to do to recover from its defeat last November. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” is must reading for Republicans who continue to grouse about the party’s problems amid recriminations about Mitt Romney’s loss. It contains valuable insights that ought to be heeded by conservatives about how to win elections in the future. Its sections on messaging, fundraising, voter registration, technology, turnout efforts, outreach to neglected sections of the electorate like Hispanics and youth voters and candidate selection all reflect both an honest assessment of what went wrong and what needs be done in the future to ensure the GOP returns to majority status. Other suggestions like limiting presidential candidate debates during the primaries, streamlining the nominating process and moving up the date of the national convention are also smart.

It’s not clear yet whether ornery conservatives who resent the idea of a party rebranding will now start calling Preibus a RINO for suggesting some things have to change if a Republican is going to win the White House in the foreseeable future. To the extent that they believe–as some speakers at CPAC seemed to suggest–all the GOP needs to do is to ignore the problems and simply be more faithful to conservative ideology, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson wrote in their seminal article on the future of the Republicans in the March issue of COMMENTARY (which was quoted in the RNC report), serious thought must be given to rethinking the way the party approaches elections and some issues without abandoning its principles.

But the debate about this necessary report should not overlook one salient fact. No matter how smart the Republicans get in the next four years, they won’t win the presidency back until they nominate a better candidate than their opponents. That may seem to be such an obvious conclusion that it doesn’t merit discussion, let alone debate. But even as Republicans are rightly urged to heed the conclusions of the RNC report, it is still worth remembering.

It’s easy and fun to spin out counter-factual scenarios and to imagine different results. Yet even if the Republicans had not bored everyone silly with nearly two dozen candidate debates that drove the discussion to the margins rather than the center; if their convention wasn’t overshadowed by hurricane coverage; if their get-out-the-vote effort not been a fiasco; and their candidate hadn’t alienated Hispanics or failed to connect with young voters, Mitt Romney was not going to defeat Barack Obama.

This was more the function of Obama’s strengths as a historic president with a built-in advantage with the media than it was of Romney’s weaknesses. Romney was, after all, the most electable of all the Republican contenders and it’s doubtful that any of his competitors would have done as well as he did.

But not even a Republican Party that was technologically up-to-date and appealing to Hispanics rather than turning them off with threats of “self-deportation” would have been strong enough to overcome Obama, especially with a candidate like Romney who lacked the ability to connect with ordinary Americans (a trait that was only exacerbated by his fatal “47 percent” gaffe).

None of this should serve as an argument in favor of ignoring the RNC report, whose conclusions should be heeded if the GOP is going to continue to compete in the future. Building the party is, however, not quite the same thing as winning a presidential election, which hinges on two specific personalities more than it does on the strengths of their parties.

Fortunately for the Republicans they now have a deep bench from which to choose a better candidate than Romney. Equally fortunate for them is the fact that Barack Obama won’t be on the ballot in 2016 and if Hillary Clinton fails to run, it will be the Democrats who will probably be fielding a less able vote getter.

However, no one can tell yet whether the GOP contenders will pan out or if some Democrat surges to the fore as Obama did in 2008. Even if the RNC achieves all of its stated goals and Republicans embrace immigration reform, it won’t matter if the next matchup is as lopsided as it was in 2012.

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Dems Back Reid Attacks on Romney’s Taxes

Democrats are starting to throw their support behind Sen. Harry Reid’s completely unsourced attacks on Mitt Romney’s tax returns. While the Obama campaign hasn’t endorsed Reid’s comments explicitly, it’s been using them as an opening to smack Romney for his failure to release more than two years of his tax information. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is defending Reid’s credibility, calling his allegations “a fact”:

“Harry Reid made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact,” Pelosi told The Huffington Post in a Sunday interview. “Whether he did or not can easily be disposed of: Mitt Romney can release his tax returns and show whether he paid taxes.”

Both Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus came out swinging against Reid on Sunday over his claims about Romney potentially not paying taxes. Asked to respond to Priebus calling Reid “a dirty liar” over the situation, Pelosi initially responded, “Who?” She went on to say that Priebus doesn’t know what he’s talking about since he wasn’t part of Reid’s conversations.

“Well he doesn’t know that,” Pelosi said. “Harry Reid is a person who is, as we know, A, is a fighter, B, he wouldn’t say this unless it was true that somebody told him that.”

Pelosi’s comments will at least help extend the news life of this story, giving the Obama campaign more time to hammer Romney to release his returns. But are Democrats also taking a risk with this attack?

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Democrats are starting to throw their support behind Sen. Harry Reid’s completely unsourced attacks on Mitt Romney’s tax returns. While the Obama campaign hasn’t endorsed Reid’s comments explicitly, it’s been using them as an opening to smack Romney for his failure to release more than two years of his tax information. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is defending Reid’s credibility, calling his allegations “a fact”:

“Harry Reid made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact,” Pelosi told The Huffington Post in a Sunday interview. “Whether he did or not can easily be disposed of: Mitt Romney can release his tax returns and show whether he paid taxes.”

Both Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus came out swinging against Reid on Sunday over his claims about Romney potentially not paying taxes. Asked to respond to Priebus calling Reid “a dirty liar” over the situation, Pelosi initially responded, “Who?” She went on to say that Priebus doesn’t know what he’s talking about since he wasn’t part of Reid’s conversations.

“Well he doesn’t know that,” Pelosi said. “Harry Reid is a person who is, as we know, A, is a fighter, B, he wouldn’t say this unless it was true that somebody told him that.”

Pelosi’s comments will at least help extend the news life of this story, giving the Obama campaign more time to hammer Romney to release his returns. But are Democrats also taking a risk with this attack?

Larry Sabato argues they are in USA Today:

Team Obama’s tactic isn’t without risk, said Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia. “Suppose Romney reverses course and releases the extra tax returns, and they show that he did pay substantial taxes,” Sabato said. “Both Reid and Obama would have to apologize, I would think.”

Sabato, however, concludes that the Obama campaign has made the calculation that Romney, who became wealthy in his years in private equity, won’t release more returns. “Every new complicated return gives Democrats and the media lots of openings for negative charges and stories,” he said.

Obama or Reid apologize for a slanderous statement about Romney? Don’t hold your breath. Democrats are tacitly supporting Reid’s comments because they don’t see a downside here. Even if Romney releases his tax returns and proves Reid’s baseless claims false, the story won’t be about Reid — it’ll be about whatever is in Romney’s returns. And if Romney’s previous tax documents are any indication, Democrats will have a ton of fresh attack fodder that has nothing to do with tax dodging. His income and his investment information will probably be more than enough to keep the DNC busy for a few weeks.

On the other hand, if Romney doesn’t release his returns — the most likely scenario at this point — then Democrats will have a few weeks to slime his reputation with baseless claims about tax fraud. It’s a win-win for them.

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