Resurrecting the 2012 GOP Autopsy

Imagine your team lost the World Series because of a lack of depth in the pitching staff. You only had one great starter and no diversity among your relievers. Everyone knows this is why you lost. But instead of retooling your team to fill those gaps, you spent the off season massaging that one pitcher’s shoulder, telling him he’s the greatest, beefing up his contract, and also aggravating the rest of the pitching staff to the point that they demand trades or stop trying to win. When your team leadership expresses concern about not expanding your roster and ostracizing those left, the general manager responds by focusing on pep rallies in the stadium and providing new team merchandise. Everyone gets a new jersey to support your one starting pitcher. And a new red hat.

Now it’s the next season. Can your team win?

Today I reread the Republican party “autopsy” report, officially titled the Growth and Opportunity Project (GOP), which diagnosed the causes of Mitt Romney’s electoral defeat and recommended ways to resurrect his party. To read this today, with Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign finally behind us, was a transporting and bizarre experience. There is literally nothing that Trump did to implement the report’s suggestions, and in most cases, he energetically and undeniably did the opposite.

The opening section speaks plainly about the need to expand the party with younger voters and Latino voters: “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.” But with Trump, minorities such as Muslims and Latinos correctly think that he does not like them or want them in the country.

The most poignant section for today, “America Looks Different,” emphasizes “the urgency of how precarious [the GOP’s] position has become.” Focusing specifically on Hispanic Americans’ increasing share of the electorate, the authors cry out to their future candidate: “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”

Trump began his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, at its midpoint criticized the Mexican paternal heritage of an American-born judge overseeing one of Trump's many lawsuits, and concluded it today by suing Clark County, Nevada because it let people waiting in long lines to vote at a heavily Latino polling place exercise that right. (It is normal practice to let those in line by closing time make their way through the line, and a judge curtly rejected the lawsuit.)

Concerning Trump’s criticism of Judge Curiel, Paul Ryan himself said it was a “textbook definition of a racist comment.” And an election day lawsuit that targets polling places in Las Vegas with large minority populations seems to be an outright rejection of the GOP’s own recommendations. Instead of appealing for their votes, the Trump campaign attempts to suppress them. But in the autopsy report’s list of the most important “states in which our presidential candidates used to win,” the first three are “New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada…” Without a modest share of the Latino vote, such as George W. Bush had, the party’s chances in the Sun Belt are tightening.

With even Arizona in jeopardy due to high Latino turnout (and solid-red Utah disrupted by Trump’s vulgarity and McMullin’s appeal), it is quite possible that the Republican party loses the entire southwest today.

But after Trump, after it’s become his party, can the GOP even resurrect this autopsy report for future use? Can they rebuild the team? Or do they have to dismantle it and start over?

If so, I hear Las Vegas is looking for a new team.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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