This is a great WaPo article detailing how the GOP came back for the 2014 elections. I think it also hits on an important concept, which I believe is lost on the Tea Party, and probably the cause of a lot of friction between it and the GOP establishment. The Tea Party is big on finding the “true conservative,” and not focused nearly enough on finding good candidates. The article talks about the candidacy of Joni Ernst in Iowa:
Republicans worked to polish Ernstâ€™s presentation and policy platform. â€œShe is naturally disciplined, and I assume that has a lot to do with her military training and her farm-girl roots,â€ said David Kochel, an Ernst adviser.
Meanwhile, the Braley campaign had problems. With each of his missteps â€” a gaffe about towel service at the House gym, hostile questioning of witnesses in committee hearings and a local fracas over a neighborâ€™s roaming chickens â€” Braley caused heartburn in Washington.
When the chicken incident became public, Reid called and said, â€œBruce, look, you just have to be smarter than this â€” or youâ€™re going to lose,â€ according to Krone. Schumer, the partyâ€™s message maven, called Braley repeatedly to help him become more disciplined.
â€œBraley listens for a minute and then sort of just continues back on his merry way,â€ said a senior Democratic official. â€œHeâ€™s not a good politician, which may seem like a compliment but itâ€™s not. .â€‰.â€‰. He comes across as arrogant, and I think itâ€™s because he is.â€
If you want true conservatives to win, they must first be good candidates, meaning they have to be good politicians. What are the qualities of a good candidate?
- They can fundraise and run a campaign. If they can’t do this, they can’t win. A lot of people in Pennsylvania were really enamored with Sam Rohrer for a while, but he couldn’t fundraise or campaign, and so he never went anywhere as a state level candidate.
- They have to be disciplined. They need to stay on message, and avoid saying stupid things. In the example given of Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, he was formerly a conservative talk radio host. No one who has that much of a paper trail, on transcript trail in his case, makes a good candidate. They’ve said too much over the years, and some of it is going to be stupid. Some of it will be stupid taken out of context, which the opposition is sure to do. This is where Todd Akin fell over.
- They have to be personally likable. They have to come across to low information voters as good people, who care about them, and reflect their values. Standing up for “true conservative” values is fine and well, but if they can’t do it in a way that still maintains likability, they will tank. LIVs aren’t ideological, and there are a lot of higher information voters who aren’t particularly ideological. They want candidates who appear to care about them, and others. If you can’t frame your ideology in a manner that connects it back to voters, you don’t have a chance. This is why Libertarians have never gotten anywhere.
- They have to be good at retail politics. If they are no good on the stump, in debates, at dealing with people one-on-one, orÂ aren’t willing to campaign hard to achieve victory, their campaign could easily end up hopeless. Modern GOTV efforts require candidates that are well-versed, or at least knowledgeable enough to hire people well-versed in technology. Why did Scott Brown do so well as a carpetbagger candidate in New Hampshire? Because he’s very good on this factor.
These factors matter a lot more than ideology. In politics, these factors are the horse. Ideology is the cart. The Tea Party doesn’t seem to understand that. The establishment does, and that’s a big reason the establishment did well in this election. I share people’s loathing of the GOP establishment, but if the Tea Party doesn’t learn not to put the cart before the horse, they’ll continue to struggle and be disillusioned.