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July 29, 2014, 12:50 pm

What happens to GOP if Romney loses?

Normally diverging on just about every issue, there’s one topic President Barack Obama and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh agree on: the Republican Party may implode if Obama wins reelection.

There was Limbaugh in September, sweating profusely and predicting the end of the world immediately following an Obama victory. But, he didn’t stop there, lambasting GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney for “not running a conservative campaign.”

And it wasn’t just Romney. “There's gonna be a new Republican Party if that happens,” growled the red-faced commentator. Limbaugh believes that the “new GOP” is “… gonna be led by Tea Party people.”

“There's no ‘if’ about this. It's gonna be ugly, it's gonna be gut wrenching, but it will happen.” 

Two months later, while battling for re-election, President Obama chimed in on the subject, momentarily digressing from his campaign speech. "The question’s going to be: How do Republicans react post-election? Because there’s going to be a war going on inside that party. It just hasn’t broken up. It’s been unified in its opposition to me."

Each statement, and the tension in between, seems to validate the other on the surface. Limbaugh may have been channeling Tea Party rank-and-file frustration at the time, a need to openly whine about a deliberate and carefully orchestrated isolation game played by “Establishment Republicans” during their convention in Tampa, Fla. Many Tea Party faithful were telling the Tribune at the time that they knew what was up, didn’t appreciate it and would find some way to make those responsible pay. Many pointed to “country club” GOP icons like Crossroads GPS Super PAC king Karl Rove as a culprit. Rove, not mincing words over his clear distaste for upstarts like Sarah Palin — and others like Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin who wore down the GOP brand, seemed impervious to the threats while raising loads of money.

Yet, other GOP insiders are clearly trembling at the thought of a party in disarray, unlike anything seen since its founding in 1854. At that time, it was a fragmented coalition of Whigs, Democrats, Free Soilers and Know Nothings.

Some predict a similar situation in the event President Obama, a reviled and supremely hated target of the ideological right, gets his second term.

“There are a number of Republicans who are not and have not been happy with the Republican Party for a while,” said Timothy F. Johnson, founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, and a former vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party. Talking to the Tribune, Johnson predicted an implosion within the party when either candidate wins the White House. “[Black Republican conservatives] are tired of having to speak for candidates who are unwilling to go into our communities or speak directly to the citizens. And while the overall objective of this election cycles is to remove President Obama from office, repeal Obamacare and get the economy back on track, regardless of who is elected there will be a revolt.”

Of course, it’s not just Black Republicans. Polls have remained tight for some time, and Republican strategists seem to have a nervous edge about them. Early voting returns favor the president, prompting Romney to recalibrate. Worried about a loss of advantage in critical battleground states like Ohio and Florida, Team Romney shifts to battle Team Obama on its left flank, engaging in an expanded map strategy as resources are being dumped into last minute campaign ad barrages in light blue states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

Many experts agree that there is a rising fear among poll-number crunching Republicans that Obama could win. A recent endorsement of the president from the traditionally right-leaning and pro-big business magazine The Economist jarred many conservatives into disbelief. That was in the wake of a surprise endorsement from former-Republican-turned-centrist-independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who suddenly became an Obama fan after what was perceived as an effective federal emergency response to Superstorm Sandy’s devastation.

And there was widespread disbelief from partisans on both sides of the aisle when an emotional New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie openly bear-hugged the president in multiple press conferences and interviews for his “personal attention” to the Sandy destruction on the Jersey shore. That was only days following a loud Christie on the pro-Romney trail blasting Obama as clueless and inept.

Still, Republican strategist and Potomac Strategy Group CEO Matt Mackowiak appears cautious on the GOP-implosion scenario. While conventional wisdom will blame conservatives, “the loss will not be seen as a rebuke to conservatism,” Mackowiak says, “but rather to a moderate candidate.” 

“Party elders will seek to solve the immigration issue within the party, to ensure we not continue to lose such a large percentage of the growing Hispanic population.  More broadly, the effect of a grand bargain, which could include tax increases, will threaten to split the party, but also potentially allow space for a true conservative candidate to be our nominee in 2016,” Mackowiak adds.

“Parties that lose back-to-back presidential elections often go through a period of change,” says former 2008 Obama co-chair and Colorado Senate President Peter Groff, who believes it won’t be as bad for the GOP as it seems. “The Democrats went more moderate after losing twice to Ronald Reagan and built the Democratic Leadership Council and ‘created’ Bill Clinton and leaned more left after going down twice to George W. Bush. So it makes perfect sense that the GOP will look inward after back-to-back wins by President Obama.” 

“I don't buy the fact the party will be ‘ripped apart’ by the internal conversation, political parties are living entities and morph and change to better reflect their principals in modern times,” said Groff.

Washington Times columnist Jeneba Ghatt rejects the notion of an implosion, but definitely sees a need for change within the GOP in terms of demographics. “I’ve been under the presumption that if Barack Obama is re-elected, the Establishment Republicans would perhaps regain the reigns of their party, having realized that pandering to the extreme is a losing game.”