In 2011, even before the primaries, I wrote a blog about why the Republicans would lose the 2012 Presidential election, it turned out I was right. (Sadly I posted it on Open Salon and now it’s gone forever.) Interestingly enough, it seems the Republican National Committee failed to learn a lesson from the last election and came up with new ways to lose.
A brief history of past elections.
Following WWII both political parties attempted to recruit Dwight D. Eisenhower to be their Presidential candidate. In 1952 he finally agreed to run as a Republican and for the first time in 20 years they won the election. They figured out that if they preselected their candidate and spent their time and money promoting that individual they could win elections. For the most part they followed this strategy.
The Republicans did lose elections, there were dynamic Democratic candidates that were hard to defeat, Kennedy, Clinton and Obama, and there were poorly chosen Republicans that the party felt they had to stick with, Nixon (1960), Ford, Dole and McCain but they had their winners, twice elected Nixon (1968), twice elected Reagan, George H.W. Bush and twice elected Bush Jr. However, there were three times when the Republicans failed to follow their strategy, and they lost.
In 1963 it seemed as if Kennedy was guaranteed to win reelection so the top Republican candidates decided it wasn’t worth their effort and they would just wait until the 1968 election, and then Lee Harvey Oswald changed everything. Suddenly there was a scramble in the GOP ranks that eventually led to a convention floor fight between conservative Barry Goldwater and moderate Nelson Rockefeller. Goldwater came out on top but the fractured party was unable to recover and Lyndon Johnson swept the Electoral College.
In 1976 the Republicans decided that they would support President Ford in his bid to be elected to the office, he had been appointed to the Vice Presidency after the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew and then assumed the office of the Presidency after the resignation of Richard Nixon. However Ronald Reagan, who had been working on his quest to become President since his appearance at the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 felt his time was running out so he pressed his candidacy at the convention leading to a floor fight for delegates and once again a fractured party was unable to come together, this coupled with Ford’s association with Nixon and the Watergate pardons led to the election of Jimmy Carter.
In 2012 the Republicans felt that the election was in the bag, they had spent years creating negative propaganda against Obama and were sure he would be a one term President. However there was one problem, they didn’t have a preselected candidate, instead they dove into a primary season unprepared. At any given time the multiple candidates appeared on top of the polls. Then the Republicans held twenty debates that turned into a debacle, the candidates spent their time attacking each other and making multiple errors on live TV. The primary election also lasted longer than planned, and it wasn’t until August, three months before the election, that one candidate was able to declare themselves as the winner. In the end the Republicans nominated Mitt “well if we have to” Romney who, by that time, had allowed the Democrats to set the narrative that he was an elitist who was out of touch with the common man, the 47%ers speech didn’t help. Barack Obama was reelected, despite Karl Rove storming into Fox News’ election headquarters and demanding a recount of the Ohio vote.
The 2016 election.
And so we find ourselves on the cusp of the 2016 primaries and after two losses the Republicans learned their lesson, well not really. They attempted to begin the campaign in 2008 at the Republican convention, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was scheduled to be the keynote speaker however Hurricane Gustav was headed right for the state and, having learned the lesson of the Katrina disaster, he stayed home to coordinate the emergency response. In 2009 he was chosen to give the response to President Obama’s State of the Union address but he was highly criticized for his delivery, some said he came across as Mr. Rogers talking down to the nation. Although Jindal did run for President in 2015 his campaign never got off the ground and as he prepares to leave the Governor’s office in Louisiana his political career is considered pretty much over.
In 2012 the Republicans tried a second time to use the convention to announce a future candidate’s run. However tropical storm Isaac struck Tampa Bay and the speeches had to be pulled from the schedule. The entire convention had to be cut short and the only memorable moment came from Clint Eastwood and became known as The Empty Chair Speech, as the actor rambled on and answered questions from a chair that had been placed on stage in case he wanted to sit down. After the election the Republican Party was in disarray and suffered from a leadership vacuum.
In 2013 the Republicans attempted to use the State of the Union response to launch the Presidential bid of Marco Rubio, a Kennedy-esque Senator from the delegate rich state of Florida. However a dry throat and a poorly placed bottle of water, just off camera and out of reach, turned the speech into comedy gold for the late night talk show crowd. Even though his national introduction was a disaster the Republicans continued to build Rubio’s brand name, he seemed destine to be the candidate.
Things actually started to look up for the Republicans with the approaching election, but then everything spiraled out of control. With a lack of party leadership and no clear frontrunner, despite their attempts to promote Rubio, the Republicans found themselves with a full field of candidates running for office from all wings of the party. They had loyalists like Rubio, the Tea Party candidate Cruz, the brand name candidate Jeb Bush and then on June 16th the wildcard candidate Donald Trump announces his presidential run, and things got really bad from there. In the end instead of one candidate the Republicans could promote for two full years they ended up with seventeen candidates.
In order to avoid the debate disaster of 2012 the Republicans came to the decision that participants would be chosen by the polls, the leaders would be in the main debate of eight candidates and the rest would be in a secondary debate. This is when things went wrong for them, people wanted to see the reality star turned Presidential candidate Trump in the debates and soon he shot to the top of the polls, half the people wanted to see the entertainment factor and the others were Democrats who wanted to see Trump make a mess of things for the Republicans. In fact the poll leaders turned out to be the worst possible candidates, Trump, Carson and Cruz. The Republican election spiraled out of control. Even as 2016 approached the field of candidates was only narrowed down from the original seventeen to thirteen.
Furthermore with his lead in the polls Trump felt that it was a free pass to say and do as he pleased. Originally the Republicans supported his ramblings since he mostly attacked Obama and the Democrats but as the election went along he began to get out of control. He smeared the other Republican candidates and his xenophobic attacks upon Mexicans and Muslims became problematic for the Republicans, and their attempts to rein him in failed. Furthermore the people who enjoyed the disaster of the Trump campaign continued to tell pollsters that they supported his candidacy and he remained the front runner.
Soon the primaries will start, most of the Republican candidates feel that the polls are wrong, that people are only saying they will vote for Trump just to cause problems for the GOP and in the end they will come out on top. If there isn’t a clear frontrunner within a few months there will be a repeat of 2012 where the Republicans candidates will have to spend more of their money before the general election. Furthermore if two candidates end up with a close count it could come down to the first convention floor fight since 1976.
Despite their early efforts the Republicans have been unable to get the primaries under control. If, after polling low for the majority of 2015, Rubio does become the Presidential contender there will be an outcry of a rigged election from several of the other candidates and a real fight will start. The possibility of a third party candidate looms heavily, especially with the overinflated ego of Trump and the Tea Party backers of Ted Cruz. No matter what happens the Republicans will find it hard to come together before the general election and find a single candidate to unite the party’s fractions. In the end one should expect a disastrous election for the Republicans in 2016.