Brownstein operative: Republicans need a new Ronald Reagan, post-2016
This week in Steamboat Springs, a Washington insider gave a hint at what the Republican Party may be planning after the November elections in which many in the GOP believe their presidential candidate will lose, and lose big.
Republican Brian Wild is a D.C.-based policy director for the Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has its hands in deep-pocketed political interests in both the Eastern and Mountain time zones. He and Democratic counterpart Elizabeth Gore, also a D.C. policy director with Brownstein, debated the presidential election Thursday during the summer conference of the Colorado Water Congress.
Gore started off by saying she would vote for Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Wild replied, “I’m voting.” Full stop. No mention of the Republican candidate, businessman Donald Trump, or any other presidential candidate.
Wild went on to give a pessimistic view of the GOP’s future if the party doesn’t change its tactics, including seeking out presidential candidates who can win general elections.
But it’s more than that, he explained to the audience of about 300. Clinton has made the Democratic Party more moderate, in the way the Republicans used to do.
The GOP has lived for the past three decades off of Ronald Reagan, Wild said. Up until the 1980s, the GOP was not a small government party, and it was also pro-choice. Reagan came in with a set of principles that transformed the party.
What Republicans need now, Wild said, is that same kind of contender – a “coalescing super candidate who says this is what I believe in” and who can rebuild the party from those core values.
The White House has a “blue tint,” Gore said, meaning that Democrats have a structural advantage going into the election that’s related to the Electoral College. Republicans aren’t capable of nominating someone who can win the general election, she said. She said the House is unlikely to switch to Democratic control this November, although the Senate probably could end up in Democratic hands, or at a 50-50 split.
Wild agreed, stating that it’s unlikely that the government will be in one-party control anytime in the future, except possibly in a narrow two-year window. “It’s kind of depressing,” he said.
The GOP also needs to change its ways regarding independent voters, and that means allowing independent voters to vote in presidential primaries, Wild said.
He noted that independents are a majority of the electorate who don’t vote in the primaries. As a result, Republicans don’t nominate presidential candidates who will win the general election. “It just doesn’t work,” he said.
If independents engaged in the political process and voted in primaries, “We would have substantially better candidates” who would be “more reflective of your views,” Wild said. “But if you only vote in November,” then voters are left with the candidates who come out of the primaries.
Gore noted research showing that if an independent voter sides with a certain party for three presidential elections in a row, that voter will start to identify with that party, even if not formally registered with it. That, she said, holds more true for the national election than for state or local elections taking place at the same time. Independent voters are more willing to split the ticket, voting for one party at the top of a ballot and for candidates of another party in lower-ticket races.
Both noted the unusually high unfavorable ratings for both Trump and Clinton. Wild said Election 2016 is unlike any other because both candidates are viewed unfavorably by a majority of the electorate. Usually, the candidate whom voters view more unfavorably than favorably loses the election. That won’t be the case this year since both presidential nominees are in that position.
Clinton has consistently been ahead of Trump in national and swing-state polls since the Democratic National Convention in July, and neither Gore or Wild expects much movement in those numbers.
But there’s one factor that may influence polling before November: the three presidential debates. Gore said there could be other, unpredictable events that also could shift the numbers, but she wasn’t specific.
“I think Clinton will win the election, but anyone who rules out Trump does so at their own peril. He has over-performed throughout this whole process, much to my puzzlement,” she said.
Wild pointed out that voters have taken a “throw them out” attitude toward Congress, and have in recent elections succeeded in ousting longtime office holders. But, he noted, that approach hasn’t exactly been helpful.
It used to be that a politician had to be in Washington for 20 years before coming into leadership, Wild said. Now, turnover is so fast that only a handful of senators and members of the House have been there as long as he has – about 20 years.
The numbers bear that out. Fifty-four of the 100 sitting senators have been in office only during the Obama administration. In the House, 245 representatives – out of 435 House members – have served only as long as Barack Obama has occupied the White House.
“Constantly throwing people out is part of the problem,” Wild said. “You end up with people who don’t know how to do things” in Washington.
This election should have been an opportunity for the GOP, he added. “I have an awesome job convincing people Trump will win. But if I take off my party hat, I don’t see how Clinton will lose.”