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For Republicans reviewing 2022, time to ask the impolite questions

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Campaign “autopsies” conducted by political parties tend to be polite, or useful, but not both.

The reason is simple: those conducting the reviews tend to be politicians and consultants with a direct interest in not offending decision-makers whose endorsements or contracts will be coveted in the future.

The Republican Party should forget about producing a “polite” report in favor of one that is useful and provides future candidates, campaign managers and party officials with useful information on what to do, and not to do.

America’s political system differs from Europe’s in that ours is candidate-centric rather than party-centric. Candidates are the ultimate decision-makers in their campaigns, not political party leaders. The most consequential decisions in the 2022 midterm elections, therefore, were not made at Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters in Washington, nor at state party headquarters across the country, but by the candidates and those with whom they surrounded themselves.

Yet, here we are again, with the RNC’s just-announced 2022 autopsy directed at the party level, rather than where the scrutiny should be, with the individual candidates who called the shots.

A truly useful post-election autopsy would review and scrutinize the party’s candidates and the campaigns they waged, not with an eye toward blame, but rather toward identifying best practices and errors alike to better inform those who will be on the ballot next.

A useful review poses inconvenient questions:

To what extent did Republican fears of mail balloting give Democrats a resource advantage by allowing them to stop spending money communicating with their voters once their ballots were cast, while Republicans had to spend talking to their voters through Election Day?

Did the mixed messages some Republicans sent following the events of Jan. 6, 2021 provide Democrats with an opening to divert attention from President Biden and his handling of the economy?

To what extent did the Republican candidates who lost the country’s most competitive senate seats conduct serious vulnerability assessments on themselves prior to their decision to run? Should any of them have taken a pass this time?

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court Dobbs decision, was the Republican messaging on the emotional issue of abortion clear, or did ambiguity and mixed signals create an opening for Democrats to open a 28 point lead among voters under 30?

Did pre-election research and polling show a pathway for Republicans to close the gap among younger voters, or did none exist?

Was the chatter of an imminent announcement for former President Trump launching his 2024 White House campaign, anticipated as soon as Labor Day, a distraction from focusing on Biden’s economic record? 

In which races did Republican nominees successfully switch their strategies and messaging to a competitive general election environment? Were any stuck repeating their primary campaign messages to a general election audience?

What has been the effect of the deluge of fundraising appeals, sent primarily by text message, which chastise and berate Republican donors?

Are there examples of states whose nominating systems produce candidates better suited for a competitive general election environment?

Some Republican campaign professionals reading this list will find it uncomfortable — and that is precisely the point. A serious examination of the Republican campaign, especially in a year where the party underperformed, by definition warrants asking uncomfortable and impolite questions. The point is not to play gotcha, but to get real answers about the quality of the candidates the party nominated, and the effectiveness of the campaigns they waged.

The 2022 elections were a layup for Republicans. All five major factors impacting midterms clearly favored the GOP: history, presidential approval, right track/wrong direction polling, the economy as the top issue, as well as House redistricting which moved more seats from Democrat-controlled to Republican states. Yet, here we are, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House pickups a fraction of the historical average of 23 in the post-war period.

With the Democrats pushing an agenda intensely opposed by Republicans, the stakes are too high for an election post-mortem that glosses over the decisions made, and those who made them, for the sake of being polite. It’s time to ask the really tough questions.

Ron Nehring served as chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011, and he was chairman of the RNC’s State Chairmen’s Committee from 2009 to 2011.

Tags 2022 midterm elections 2024 election Biden Democrats Donald Trump Politics Politics of the United States Republicans Ron Nehring Trump

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