Opinion

The GOP got way better at campaigning — and Democrats should be very afraid

The Republican Party got a lot right in the 2014 midterms, lessons that might come handy in 2016

Does the Republican smash success of 2014 portend similar results in 2016?

At first blush it doesn't seem so. The "fundamentals" will not be the same. President Obama won't be there to kick around anymore, so Republicans cannot rely on his unpopularity. The electorate will be not be as white or as old. Unless Hillary Clinton absents herself and a world-historically inept candidate (Wendy Davis?) carries the D brand, you can't expect states like Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois, or even North Carolina to be as friendly to Republicans come the next election cycle.

But Republicans have not been given credit where it is due. And they have plenty to learn from their victories.

The first is candidate selection. The calming of the Tea Party populist squall may have played a role in attracting a better kind of candidate in 2014. But "recruit stars" is easy advice to give and hard to follow. In Cory Gardner, who defeated Mark Udall in a very purple Colorado, the GOP seems to have found such a star. Although he has a very conservative record by national standards, his handling of Udall's culture-war fear-mongering was deft. He easily turned questions about social issues into answers about economic issues or Obama's record.

Some commentators are crowing that demographics still doom the GOP. But this year Republicans were determined to expand their support beyond the base, and they were rewarded for their efforts. Look no further than Gregg Abbott, the gubernatorial candidate in Texas, who reversed the GOP's decline among Latino voters in the Lone Star State. He made many campaign stops in the Rio Grande, and he didn't shy away from using identity politics, noting that his own family looked a bit like Texas: a mix of Latino and Anglo. "My multicultural family has played a role in our ability to connect with the Rio Grande Valley," he told the local press in the run-up to Election day.

Overall, Republicans did much better among minority voters. Two years ago, Republicans got 6 percent of the black vote, 27 percent of the Latino vote, and 25 percent of the Asian vote. In 2014 they carried 10 percent of black vote, 36 percent of the Latino vote, and 50 percent of the Asian vote.

In the long run, no, the Republicans cannot "make it up in volume" as the share of minority voters grows. But the rehabilitation of the party's image with minority voters may happen sooner than expected. The GOP did better in 2014 than in 2010, and this year's electorate was less white and less ideologically conservative than the one four years earlier.

Finally, the party at an intuitive level seems to have learned that tantrums are not enough to defeat Democrats. It is typical for parties to grow hungrier for power, and more willing to reach out to the center when their opponent has won two White House terms. Recall the way George W. Bush crafted the non-Gingrichian identity of a "compassionate conservative" in 2000. With some notable exceptions, Republicans showed signs of doing that in this election.

Instead of letting Rush Limbaugh stand in for them, GOP candidates neutralized hot-button issues. Gardner, for example, proposed legislation to make contraception available over-the-counter, as a way of assuring voters who might be turned off by his support of Hobby Lobby or other religious liberty objectors to mandatory contraception coverage. These little tweaks allow Republicans to campaign for a broader liberty not just for their own constituencies, but for the muddled middle, too.

That's the playbook. Find candidates that attract voters, not just attention and media. Don't just rely on your base, but campaign for voters that are soft on the other party. Go easy on your ideology, and find policies that both draw on your base convictions and deliver a win for swing voters.

It's a start.

More From...

Picture of Michael Brendan DoughertyMichael Brendan Dougherty
Read All
What Andrew Jackson can teach us about Trump's overthrow of conservatism
President Trump
Opinion

What Andrew Jackson can teach us about Trump's overthrow of conservatism

I write on the internet. I'm sorry.
With regrets.
Opinion

I write on the internet. I'm sorry.

Why America should envy Brexit
Brexit envy.
Opinion

Why America should envy Brexit

Nationalists vs. the establishment: A disappointing clash
A precarious place.
Opinion

Nationalists vs. the establishment: A disappointing clash

Recommended

Who is Ruben Gallego?
Ruben Gallego and Kyrsten Sinema
Briefing

Who is Ruben Gallego?

2024 Senate races to watch
U.S. Capitol
Feature

2024 Senate races to watch

Trump to spearhead 2024 campaign with stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina
Former President Donald Trump.
Back on the Stage

Trump to spearhead 2024 campaign with stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel wins 4th term
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel
Congrats

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel wins 4th term

Most Popular

Boeing to deliver its final 747 plane, bringing an end to the world's most iconic jet
The final Boeing 747 during its rollout.
Farewell, 747

Boeing to deliver its final 747 plane, bringing an end to the world's most iconic jet

5 toons about egg prices
Editorial Cartoon
Feature

5 toons about egg prices

Body cam footage of Tyre Nichols' death released by police
A screenshot from the body cam footage of Tyre Nichols' beating.
Horrific

Body cam footage of Tyre Nichols' death released by police