As a Republican who began his volunteer activities in Georgia in the 1960 Richard Nixon-Henry Lodge campaign (I was in high school and there was such a small Georgia GOP that everyone was welcome), I think it is necessary to have the courage to face the depth and scale of Tuesday’s disaster in Georgia.
Many Republicans will try to avoid the scale of Tuesday’s defeat, but that would be an enormous mistake.
Everything we said about how important this runoff was (the most consequential in history) and the impact of losing it (a profound shift in power from Republicans to Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats) was true.
This vital runoff has now been lost. As I write there is still some hope for Sen. David Perdue, but virtually all of the uncounted votes come from Democratic areas.
This double victory will be an enormous morale boost—and a real increase in power—for Washington Democrats.
So, what lessons must we learn from this disaster of the first order?
We should look at the series of events and activities which made a Republican victory so difficult.
First, the remarkable job Stacey Abrams has done in building a powerful first-class voting-registration machine in Georgia (making herself the most likely next governor). She has spent two full years raising money nationally and building an organization that can turn out the vote on an unprecedented scale. She was a major factor in carrying Georgia for Biden and in electing the two Democrats in the runoff. By force of personality and a lot of hard work, she is making herself a major player. Republicans must study what she has achieved and figure out how to match it.
Then there is the polarization of Americans into pro- and anti-Trump factions. It has such intensity that what would have normally been powerful attacks against Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were simply ignored or shrugged off by their polarized supporters. I was really surprised at how little impact descriptions of Warnock’s radicalism had on voters who normally would have been appalled at some of his positions. They had already picked their team and they resented, rather than listened to, negative information about their side. Polarization eliminated most of the argumentative side of campaigning and reduced the opportunity to have a dialogue.
The civil war between Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the rest of the Republican Party, including President Trump, clearly had a distracting impact. President Trump’s hour-long argument with Raffensperger further weakened enthusiasm. This runoff was so vital that everything should have been subordinated to winning it. This clearly did not happen. The bitterness on both sides of the Kemp/Raffensperger-vs.-Trump fight further weakened the GOP at a crucial moment. Perhaps the most devastating blow was the idiotic push for Republicans to boycott the election.
The failure of President Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell to coordinate what they would do on the $2,000-per-person stimulus proposal disappointed Trump populist voters and left Sens. Perdue and Loeffler in difficult positions. I warned that trying clever parliamentary maneuvers would fail to satisfy the Republican base. As public policy the $2,000-per-person grant is a bad idea. However, as political policy in the most important runoff in American history, once President Trump staked out a pro-$2,000 policy, the Senate GOP should have voted on it and given Sens. Loeffler and Perdue a chance to prove to economic populists that they were on their side.
Further, there was a failure to follow up on President Trump’s success with Latino voters and win the same share for the two senators (this would almost have been enough of a difference to swing the election). In November, President Trump got a higher percentage of minority votes than any Republican in 60 years. The Georgia GOP should have spent far more resources on the Latino and Asian American votes. This opportunity would have included highlighting the election of the largest number of Republican women and minority House members in history.
The decision by the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns to run almost entirely negative ads was another mistake. (The complaints I received about the ads from many pro-Republican sources was a warning that something was not working.) As my daughter Jackie Cushman said, it gave the appearance that Perdue and Loeffler weren’t running for anything but only against their opponents. This isn’t a great position for any campaign—especially an incumbent’s. Meanwhile, the Democrats had some positive ads designed to communicate warm, caring personalities. All too many of our consultants have grown stale and only want to repeat things that used to work. I have heard from several people in Georgia who said the campaign runners simply wouldn’t hear suggestions to try different, more positive messages.
This is a brief introduction to what should be a much longer and more detailed inquest. These two races were winnable. But too many of the participants, supporters and major players had agendas that put the GOP victory at risk. The result is a nightmare from which we will spend years recovering.
To read, hear and watch more of Newt’s commentary, visit Gingrich360.com.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.