CPAC 2013: Who deserves the blame for the 2012 debacle?

The central question facing those attending or speaking at the American Conservative Union’s CPAC conference this week is why they failed to produce a GOP challenger who could beat a relatively weak incumbent in President Obama last November. For some, it’s about policies, for others it’s about message, for still others it’s about the candidate himself, and for those who don’t fall into one of the first three groups it’s about the nuts and bolts of campaigning — technology, infrastructure and everything that falls into the category known as the “ground game.”

Each of these debates matters, because the GOP had significant failures in each respect in 2012. Anyone who wants to see conservative politicians elected to implement conservative policies needs to pay attention.

While there are differing opinions among the folks here concerning each of those items, the most passionate disagreements I saw Thursday, by far, were those pertaining to the consultants who run many a campaign. The discussion would have made Erick Erickson — the WSB radio host and RedState.com editor who has written about the failure of the GOP consultant class before — proud.

Now, to be fair, part of the discord in this debate (titled “Should We Shoot All the Consultants Now?”) had to do with the fact one of the participants was a Democratic pollster, Pat Caddell. But offering more or less the same anti-consultant line as Caddell was Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell. On the other side, a couple of GOP consultants tried to limit the criticism to “bad consultants.”

Offering a pair of statistics to back up his claims of consultant malpractice — one-quarter of voters who wanted all or part of Obamacare repealed voted for Obama anyway, as did one-third of those who said government is too big — Caddell laid into the consultant class for what he described as its self-dealing, cronyism and conflict of interest.

“Some of this borders on RICO statute violations,” he said, referring to the federal law covering racketeering and organized crime.

Blackwell broke it down roughly as follows:

A consultant wins a race and gets more clients. He wins more races and gets still more clients. Soon, he can’t spend individual time on all his clients, so he relies more heavily on buying advertising (think TV ads), which requires little time. This is in his own financial interest, because he gets a 15% commission on most media buys. On the other hand, he gets no commission for campaign funds spent on what Blackwell called “people-intensive activities” — knocking on doors, training volunteers, that kind of thing.

With his campaign success, this consultant decides to get into lobbying to generate lucrative fees, although he keeps some campaign work because of the media-buy commissions. These commissions give him an incentive to push more fund-raising and spending even in the late stages of winning campaigns, especially those by an incumbent, even though that may prevent other candidates in the party from getting the money they need to win. In 2012, Blackwell noted, $1 billion spent comes out to some $150 million in commissions for the consultants.

All of this is compounded, he said, by the fact many of the large national campaign organizations for each party — think the GOP’s House and Senate campaign committees — try to decide which candidate will receive its favor and then twist his or her arm to choose consultants from its “approved list of vendors which included only people who were cronies of the people in charge of these respective national committees.”

That, Blackwell said, “was an awful thing.”

Caddell argued this was a specifically Republican problem: Democrats, he said, “play to win, we play for life and death.” But he said of the worst GOP consultants, “They have no problem playing the Washington Generals to the Democrats’ Harlem Globetrotters.”

The actual consultants on the panel weren’t buying the whole story.

“Consultants are either geniuses or idiots every two years,” said Jeff Roe, founder of Axiom Strategies. “Consultants’ role on this is somewhat overstated.”

On the other hand, he noted, “It’s not a soup kitchen. We do get paid. And at the end of a campaign where you were paid to lose, you should try to figure out what happened.

“There are bad consultants, and I’m not going to defend bad consultants. There are a lot of hacks.”

Personally, I tend to think Caddell and Blackwell have a very good point. But at the same time, I find it hard to believe one party has a monopoly on self-interested politicos who care first and foremost about money and yet keep getting hired despite spotty track records. Ultimately, I think blaming people other than the candidates and party who struggled last year to offer a compelling argument for why they should be elected will only mean ignoring more fundamental questions facing conservatives and the party closest to their beliefs.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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201 comments Add your comment

dcb

March 15th, 2013
5:47 am

Unbelievable – call me naive but to think consultants rake in a percentage of the media ads they promote is simply ludicrous. But then likewise is to think the party and future candidates would promote the use of any consultant who didn’t produce winners – regardless of the spin that is put on the reason why. As I said …. whether on the Dem of GOP side, call me naive. Wish I had heard of a business like this when I was younger.

DeborahinAthens

March 15th, 2013
6:02 am

Did they, at any point, acknowledge that their ideology is abhorrent to the majority of Americans? I was a Republican Fo over thirty years. I voted for Nixon, Reagan, and Daddy Bush. When the likes of Karl Rove, an evil, dishonest, power mad sociopath led Dubya the Dumb into the first presidential primary of his “stellar” career, I just could not vote for That Republican. Then, I started noticing how state candidates were being chosen. Until the Repugs get their heads out of their backsides, I will never vote for a Republican. I honestly believe there is a (not so) hidden agenda being directed by very powerful religious organizations to destroy this country as we know it. The Repigs talk about freedom from government as they engineer yet more laws that restrict our rights as Americans. They talk about being fiscally conservative while spending billions on programs and tax breaks benefiting corporations and the very wealthy. Before everyone starts screeching about me personally, I am a white female, married to the same man for 42 years, college educated, in the 33% tax bracket. I have two grown sons and four grand kids. I believe in legalized abortion–fought hard for it–though I have never had one. I believe in compassionate euthanasia for people with degenerative diseases, or that are beyond medical help. When Rick Santorum inserted his miserable self into the Terri Schiavo case, it made me want to vomit. I want to buy wine on Sunday, if I so choose. I have never done drugs, but, like the two Paul’s I believe we should legalize most drugs. It makes me angry that Repugs would rather give billions to corporations to run prisons than give billions to educate the poor kids so that they can get out of the cycle of poverty. We all see these hypocrites, we know what they are doing, and we want nothing of it. That is not my America. Did they address this at CPAC?

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
6:07 am

So running the elite northeastern flip flopping governor of Taxachussetts, who, by the way, has his own government run health care plan, had nothing to do with it?

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
6:11 am

Be forewarned Repugs, you run Jeb Bush, chris christie or any other mccain type squish in 2016 and you are going to lose again.

Westdawg

March 15th, 2013
6:21 am

As I see the potential candidates for 2016, Rubio and Christy are the two who give the best chance to defeat Clinton(who is a lock if she wants it).The CPAC folks show how out of touch they are by excluding Christy and including types like Palin and Trump-neither of which could win nationally with the best consultants in the world.

Thomas Heyward Jr

March 15th, 2013
6:31 am

CPAC 2013: Who deserves the blame for the 2012 debacle?
.
That answer is simple.
Who ever is interested in the rule of law, limited government, and the free market but STILL voted for a Northeast, gun-grabbing, big government, Obama-care birthing, progressive like Romney is responsible.
.
You people will ALSO be responsible for Hillary in 2016.
.
Thanks a pant load.

Jefferson

March 15th, 2013
6:34 am

Even a dog knows if he is kicked or tripped over, the GOP has been kicking the country.

The Snark

March 15th, 2013
6:38 am

Just a wild guess here, but I’m thinking that maybe the “2012 debacle” happened because a majority of the voters thought that Obama would do a better job as President than Romney. Call me crazy.

independent thinker

March 15th, 2013
6:53 am

The better question is why did the stupid party pick an unqualified candidate like Romney with so many obvious flaws. Why did it take the 47% tape and Clinton’s lecture in Obama’s nominating speech for independents and moderate Republicans to realize Romney/Ryan were absolute liars and losers?

You look at the 47% tape and you listen to Clinton’s speech (and Kerry’s too)
and the answers are all there
Also next time do not diss veterans and women.

JDW

March 15th, 2013
7:33 am

“Ultimately, I think blaming people other than the candidates and party who struggled last year to offer a compelling argument for why they should be elected will only mean ignoring more fundamental questions facing conservatives and the party closest to their beliefs.”

This is spot on, the candidate hires the consultants he/she desires and is responsible for the message. That said I find this bit interesting…

“Anyone who wants to see conservative politicians elected to implement conservative policies needs to pay attention.”

This is the root, fact is less people want the policies that are termed conservative in todays debate. From abortion to budget to Medicare more people choose politicians with a different message. Really the only policy you could hang your hat on for the moment is ObamaCare…what a great job of marketing by the Republicans… people are so miss informed by this marketing they say they don’t like the program while they support all of it’s major components…go figure.

JDW

March 15th, 2013
7:36 am

“Unbelievable – call me naive but to think consultants rake in a percentage of the media ads they promote is simply ludicrous.”

Welcome to advertising…that is the way it works throughout the industry. It doesn’t matter if you are buying TV, Print or Pay Per Cick…doesn’t mean it is right, just that it works that way for the entire industry.

JDW

March 15th, 2013
7:42 am

“So running the elite northeastern flip flopping governor of Taxachussetts, who, by the way, has his own government run health care plan, had nothing to do with it?”

Not really, the Romney that won the Governor’s seat in Massachusetts would have likely gotten my vote, many others and won. It was the Romney that chose to pander to the WingNut population and do a u-turn on abortion, healthcare, immigration and most everything else that was unelectable.

Centrist

March 15th, 2013
7:44 am

Beating an incumbent is rare. Beating one who has the full support of a fawning liberal media which is more effective than advertising is nearly impossible. Yet Obama made history by getting re-elected with fewer votes then he got for his first term. This is why he does not have a mandate/ political capital, is an early lame duck.

indigo

March 15th, 2013
7:46 am

The Republican base has consisted mostly of gullible white men and their equally clueless wives.

Demographics are changing in America and simple tool Republican voters are becomming less and less likley to ever be numerous enough to be able to elect a President again.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
7:47 am

Not really, the Romney that won the Governor’s seat in Massachusetts would have likely gotten my vote, many others and won.

I rest my case.

JDW

March 15th, 2013
7:48 am

Wow a perfect example of why it is that people don’t like todays conservative policies…

From Rob Portman, Governor of Ohio and staunch Gay Marriage opponent

“I’m announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about that has to do with gay couples’ opportunity to marry,” Portman told CNN.

Why would Portman do such a thing. Did he have a vision, a Grinch like experience with his heart or has he lost his mind? No……..

“It has to do with another revelation, one deeply personal. His 21-year-old son, Will, is gay.”

See that is the problem with these deep seated personal convictions held by many Republicans today…they just don’t really understand until it hits their house.

JDW

March 15th, 2013
7:49 am

“I rest my case.”

Along with your chances of winning another election.

Finn McCool (the system isn't broken; it's fixed)

March 15th, 2013
7:51 am

Candidates? Fail
Ground game? Fail

What else you got?

Ideas? Fail

Rafe Hollister

March 15th, 2013
7:53 am

Caddell is correct, the Dems play to win. Obama disproved all those consultants who constantly hold the GOP candidate back, with don’t be too critical, don’t come across as mean, don’t ridicule the other guy, show some respect, keep the focus on the issues, blah, blah, blah. Obama did all those things you are not supposed to do. He was big into ridicule and disrespect for his opponent and the people liked it. It is a war not some pillow fight, like the GOP think it is.

We need a candidate with a sense of how he is being perceived, who can ramp it up when needed and tone it down when needed, without being overly controlled by his handlers. The old let Reagan be Reagan thing really works, people like candidates who are open and say what is on their mind. Romney’s lets stick with the economy and not get off in the weeds was a losing strategy.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
7:55 am

Centrist – Not only that, President Obama’s re election had no “coat tails.” One would expect that if Republicans were really so scarce, as some of these whackjobs insist, the election should have delivered the House of Representatives and some governorships into dummycrat hands. But for some reason, people split their votes, passing on a Republican president but electing other Republican leaders.

Who knows, maybe they found the Republican presidential candidate not to their liking.

WAW

March 15th, 2013
7:55 am

Headline: “Super Bowl Quarterback explains “2012 Debacle”

Quote: “We got our butts kicked. We lost, that simple. The best team won/”

If you’re gonna play the game – -

rwcole

March 15th, 2013
7:56 am

I want to echo what Deborah said. I’m 42, college educated, self employed, married w/ kids, and I also used to vote Republican. Doubt I will do so again for a long, long time.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
7:58 am

portman also officially announced that he wasn’t a very good parent.

Just Saying..

March 15th, 2013
7:58 am

Gee, Kyle, now you’ve done it. Debacle? When Tib has been assuring us for months that the election was THAT close?
We all know Tib has the spine to step right up and correct you…

woodstockmimi

March 15th, 2013
8:02 am

Deborah @6:02 a.m.–Wow! Your post could have been mine. You spoke for me, and I suspect, a lot of other people. And..I love the way you had to put in the part about you personally. Otherwise, you would have been attacked, as others have been, as a “freeloader”. The republicans/tpartiers don’t seem to understand that many of the people who disagree with them are not on welfare, or “dependent on government”, we are people who love our country just as much as they claim to. This, I think, is one of the most fundamental lessons republicans/tpartiers have to learn; that we are all Americans, and that this country has, up until this point, run very well with differing positions. It seems to me that this vilifying of those who disagree with you is one of the reasons people won’t vote for republicans/tpartiers. The republicans/tpartiers can’t seem to understand that not only do they have to “talk the talk” they have to “walk the walk”, and so far, I haven’t seen any evidence that their actions match their rhetoric. Other than their rhetoric against President Obama, of course.

A case in point is the infamous 47% video. Instead of vilifying people who “won’t” vote for him, romney should have been exhorting his cohorts to “create jobs”. The more jobs they create, the more profit they themselves can make, the more money the “47%” will have, to pay taxes, to buy their own food, their own health care, their own housing. Then, romney could have said, “look at how I’m trying to get these fine people (his donors) to help ordinary American citizens.” To me, this is the great divide in this country. If republicans/tpartiers keep wanting us to believe that tax cuts for the rich will help provide jobs, then prove it, and exhort your fellow CEO’s, business owners, etc. to actually create jobs. Don’t vilify those who don’t have the means to create jobs; don’t vilify those who will be your future employees; let them know that their interests (employees) and your (the CEO’s, owners) interests are inextricably linked, and that we are all in this TOGETHER!

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

March 15th, 2013
8:02 am

Who deserves the blame?

Republicans who didn’t cater to the parasites and moochers and others who have given up on being Americans in return for getting their EBTs topped off and their student loans forgiven.

Finn McCool (the system isn't broken; it's fixed)

March 15th, 2013
8:03 am

The Party of Rape? Fail

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
8:04 am

Who deserves the blame for the 2012 debacle?

A: The Republican message and ideology.

Kyle Wingfield

March 15th, 2013
8:05 am

Just Saying: The debacle refers to more than the presidential race, and I should have made that clear. The GOP lost a lot of Senate seats it was well-positioned to win.

1961_Xer

March 15th, 2013
8:05 am

There is plenty of blame to go around. First, we have the culture warriors like Rick Santorum. Then, we have the slightly left of centers like John McCain and Mitt Romney… government big spenders who think they are conservatives because they like war. Then there is the tea party putting up jackass candidates. Then, there are the idiots like Todd Akin (and Paul Broun, too, for that matter) who spout off proclaiming all kinds of bullshiitte about women, rape, and abortion.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

March 15th, 2013
8:06 am

rwcole: I also used to vote Republican. Doubt I will do so again for a long, long time.
———

The length of time it takes to discover you’ve been taken for a chump is inversely proportional to your intelligence.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
8:06 am

Republicans who didn’t cater to the parasites and moochers and others who have given up on being Americans in return for getting their EBTs topped off and their student loans forgiven.

And this as well. Old people who have paid into Social Security their whole life and Military men and women overseas are not moochers.

They dont pay taxes. The Republicans would have you believe they are the problem and will talk down to them.

They ARE the 47 percent

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
9:07 am

The GOP lost a lot of Senate seats it was well-positioned to win.

A: Todd Akin

Jefferson

March 15th, 2013
9:08 am

Message, kick.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
9:10 am

Giving in to the sods and running with the low morals herd isn’t going to help bring back the decent hard working backbone of America crowd. In fact, such talk exposes one’s true views of American greatness, announcing that you do not believe in it and think we are just like any other third world rubbish heap.

Hate me if you must but I won’t be joining your surrender.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
9:11 am

I want to echo what Deborah said. I’m 42, college educated, self employed, married w/ kids, and I also used to vote Republican. Doubt I will do so again for a long, long time.

Believe it or not I would consider a Republican if they ever nominated someone reasonable.

But the inmates are running the asylum over there.

Again gerrymandering has actually boxed them into a corner.

Economically I think both parties are pretty much the same.

Its the crazy stances on social issues that scare people away from the Republicans.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
9:13 am

Giving in to the sods and running with the low morals herd isn’t going to help bring back the decent hard working backbone of America crowd.

And this is why you lose.

sailfish

March 15th, 2013
9:13 am

The problem is the brand, no one is buying the tax cuts for the rich social engineering budget that ryan keeps propping up. Every year their ranks diminish and not a moment to soon. The economy is poised to take off this year and that’s very bad news for repubs in 2014. Permanent minority status is where they belong.

independent thinker

March 15th, 2013
9:13 am

Don’t tell me Kyle is getting fed up with the antics and failures of the GOP?????????????
Yesterday he asked what the cons have to offer when their past military policy is a disaster and budget buster , today he questions if the stupidity and incompetence of the candidates was the reason they lst in 2012:

Kyle:”"”"”"”Personally, I tend to think Caddell and Blackwell have a very good point. But at the same time, I find it hard to believe one party has a monopoly on self-interested politicos who care first and foremost about money and yet keep getting hired despite spotty track records. Ultimately, I think blaming people other than the candidates and party who struggled last year to offer a compelling argument for why they should be elected will only mean ignoring more fundamental questions facing conservatives and the party closest to their beliefs.”"”"”"”"”"”

I am actually enjoying this column for a change.

Hey Kyle -just read Bookman’s narrative about GOP’s latest shining star Rubio- “No new ideas” is his campaign mantra!!!!!!!!!. IHow does a pollster jazz up that line???
Is that not a surefire recipe for more political disasters?

Next we will get Romney and Cruz speaking at CPAC on the fine art of flip flopping and saying nothing of significance while sounding important and Sarah Palin on how a candidate can be a loser, stupid, ignorant and deceptive but appeal to the base (but not Fox News because she does not have blonde hair).

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
9:14 am

BTW you guys have another good one looking to make a name for himself.

Every time Ted Cruz opens his mouth Democrats win votes.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

March 15th, 2013
9:16 am

Yep, the Democrats are soooo much more fiscally responsible than the GOP!

And their cultural rot has done sooooo much to strengthen families.

And their domination of education has produced fantastic results.

Chumps.

Finn McCool (the system isn't broken; it's fixed)

March 15th, 2013
9:17 am

isn’t going to help bring back the decent hard working backbone of America crowd

It’s still there – just not in the way you want it to look. No more union power to protect them, no more defined pension plans for retirement security. Combine that with a party with the number 1 aim of tearing down the safety net.

BuckeyeInGa

March 15th, 2013
9:17 am

See that is the problem with these deep seated personal convictions held by many Republicans today…they just don’t really understand until it hits their house.

Agreed…well don’t reallly “care to “understand until it hits their house.

Just Saying..

March 15th, 2013
9:17 am

I understand, Kyle. For the opportunity, the election was an unexpected outcome for many, and certainly bitterly frustrating for the partisan.
The self-examination effort has to be a healthy exercise, but…as I think your article points out, there are so many elements to a campaign who have agendas not necessarily connected to winning.
I would love to see a healthy, focused Republican Party emerge from efforts such as CPAC. Just count me dubious until a lot more is shown…

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
9:17 am

Being honest with our message, for once, and telling the low morals crowd to grow up and become productive, non repulsive members of society, instead of debauched parasites, would most likely garner landslide type victories for Republicans.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
9:18 am

Yep, the Democrats are soooo much more fiscally responsible than the GOP!

Clinton balanced the budget. Handed W a surplus which he blew in about 2 weeks.

Let me know when a Republican President does the same.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 15th, 2013
9:19 am

Being honest with our message, for once, and telling the low morals crowd to grow up and become productive, non repulsive members of society, instead of debauched parasites,

And this is why you lose.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 15th, 2013
9:20 am

The economy is poised to take off this year and that’s very bad news for repubs in 2014.

Ah yes, it’s Recovery Summer, right around the corner, again.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

March 15th, 2013
9:20 am

Clinton was present when the budget nearly came into balance. Too bad that Internet bubble didn’t last.

independent thinker

March 15th, 2013
9:22 am

Probably the better question Kyle is how does the GOP win elections when they continuously appeal to people like Little Barry, Tiberius and Aesop’s Fables as their primary base along with the super rich white folks? Archie Bunker was a great fan of Nixon. Look where that got the GOP.