On The Trail: Little GOP interest in post-election introspection

On The Trail: Little GOP interest in post-election introspection
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Eight years ago, in the weeks after Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Flaming shipwreck wreaks havoc on annual sea turtle migration Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal MORE conceded defeat to President Obama, the Republican National Committee launched a massive review of the party’s message, structure and strategy, an autopsy meant to right what it had gotten wrong.

Now, just a week removed from a president whose dismal approval ratings cost Republicans control of the House, the Senate and the White House in two successive elections, the GOP is entirely disinterested in the same kind of omphaloskepsis. As the Republican Party awakens in the minority, there has been no public review of its failings, no party-led plan to chart a path forward.

Instead, in states across the country, local Republican clubs have turned on their own. The Arizona Republican Party over the weekend censured three prominent Republicans, including their sitting governor, Doug DuceyDoug DuceyRepublicans see critical race theory as new front in ongoing culture wars Arizona is 'building back better' by reshoring critical technology Arizona reporting spike in coronavirus cases MORE. The Wyoming Republican Party issued a lengthy rebuke of Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says Liz Cheney hired security after death threats: report Cheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 MORE’s (R) vote to impeach President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE. A local Republican organization in Allegan County, Mich., voted to censure Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonFauci: Emails highlight confusion about Trump administration's mixed messages early in pandemic Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump Progressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill MORE (R) over the same vote.


Top Republican strategists are using the post-election lull to pore over data and consider new messaging. But those efforts are taking place behind closed doors, and strategists are reluctant to talk openly about the lessons they are learning, because of one factor: Doing so would implicitly acknowledge that Trump did indeed lose, and that his fanciful and fruitless notion of a stolen election is the big lie the rest of the world sees it for.

“There will be no high-profile autopsy by the party because to do so would undermine the prevailing narrative the election was stolen,” said Ron Nehring, a former chairman of the California Republican Party. “This is the real price we pay by allowing the party’s base to be talked into believing the falsehood [that] the election was stolen when it wasn’t — why make any improvements when you ‘won’ last time?”

The anti-Trump faction within the Republican Party, small though it may be, has signaled hopes for a clean break.

“There’s going to be a fight for the soul of the Republican Party,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who did not vote for Trump in either 2016 or 2020, told The Washington Post last week. But Hogan acknowledged the power of the former president’s message: “There are an awful lot of people in one lane fighting to take on the mantle of Donald Trump.”

The lack of a public autopsy is a reflection of just how much power Trump — who despite his loss garnered more than 74 million votes in the election — still wields. And it demonstrates how much uncertainty remains around his future as the sculptor who will mold the GOP.


“I just want to say goodbye, but hopefully it’s not a long-term goodbye,” Trump told the few supporters who showed up to Andrews Air Force Base to send him off to Florida, hours before President Biden was sworn in. “We’ll see each other again.”

After four years at the helm, many members of the Republican National Committee are Trump acolytes, devoted supporters who ran for and won seats in party leadership less because they adhere to the GOP’s conservative orthodoxy and more out of loyalty to the man they so admire.

Though he no longer has the Twitter account from which he launched so many attacks on fellow Republicans, Trump’s power is such that officials and strategists still fear his wrath. It is unclear how — or even whether — he will use what remains of his campaign resources, stashed in a political action committee he controls, to attempt revenge on erstwhile allies, though the threat of retribution is enough to keep some Republicans quiet.

“It will be difficult for folks to have an honest, public conversation about the party’s failure with Trump still in the conversation and ready to attack anyone who is critical of him,” said one Republican strategist.

“This is not an introspective crowd,” said another Republican operative. “The party can’t change with Donald Trump and his folks still in charge.”

Some Republicans argued that any kind of public autopsy would be little more than a pointless public relations stunt. After all, the post-2012 report — dubbed the Growth and Opportunity Project — called for the party to reach out more to women, African Americans and Hispanic voters. Four years later, the man who oversaw that report, Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusDemocrats claim vindication, GOP cries witch hunt as McGahn finally testifies Biden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Governor races to test COVID-19 response, Trump influence MORE, took office as chief of staff to a president who demeaned women, African Americans and Hispanic voters.

Others said the election results showed that Republicans had a Donald Trump problem, and that Republicans not named Trump did just fine. Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (R-Maine) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (R-N.C.) won reelection, Republicans added seats in the U.S. House, and they did not lose ground in state legislative chambers across the country.

But as the Republican Party seeks a path forward, with or without anyone named Trump, the opportunity to learn from the past to inform the future sits unexamined.

“Failure is a much better teacher than success. Yet, we have talked ourselves out of the need to learn the lessons of 2020 and improve,” Nehring said. “It’s much easier to just roll with the status quo than to make hard decisions about improving. Unfortunately, this is about as useful as binge watching old West Wing episodes to lose weight.”

On The Trail is a reported column by Reid Wilson, primarily focused on the 2020 elections.