Republicans Engage in Soul-Searching Over Election Day

GOP-ers blame Romney, party leadership, and the primary process for their shellacking.

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Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

Immediately following Election Day, Republicans were already engaging in the much bally-hooed "soul-searching" called for by pundits given the day's disastrous results.

They lost a golden opportunity to defeat President Barack Obama, who won re-election over Mitt Romney despite high unemployment and widespread disappointment with his first term. They blew a chance to win control of the Senate, ending up with a crop of candidates who couldn't get out of their own way. The only silver lining for the GOP is that it retained control of the House, but even there the party lost unexpected ground to the Democrats.

One frustrated Republican, a former Hill staffer now working for a consulting firm, says the party needs to do more beyond reaching out to groups like women and Hispanics.

"We need to stop talking about 'targeting' women and Latinos," she says. "Women make up more than 50 percent of voter turnout, I believe. That's not a population you segregate to target, that is THE population."

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Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

She adds, "Also, the new F word in our party is 'Fetus.' Just don't f---ing say it."

Chris Rants, a former Iowa House speaker turned political commentator, says not all Republicans have been blind to the shifting voter demographics.

"I've already gotten emails from folks saying we didn't pick a candidate who was conservative enough," he says of Romney's loss. "What did they want, a Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock? Like that would have worked better? Not likely. The fact is we can't be the party of old white guys. The demographics of the country are changing and we have to be reflective of that."

He says it's not that his party's philosophies aren't inclusive – it's that some prominent politicians give that impression.

"We have to stop being the party that is viewed as against this or that, and be the party that is viewed as being for this or that," Rants says. And I emphasize "viewed". We are the party of opportunity and equality - but sometimes our message is distorted by the people delivering it. We have to figure that out."

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When it comes to coping with Romney's loss, the frustration and disappointment is palpable.

"All of us went into [election night] feeling great," says Boris Epshteyn, a Republican political consultant who worked for the McCain-Palin communications team and is a U.S. News contributor. "They had a higher turnout than we expected among African Americans, Latinos, and women, young people. We as Republicans now have to look inside and see if we have to reach out to more voters with our core values; we need to alienate less voters and rebound."

Some close to Romney say his moment with destiny was disrupted by events beyond his control.

Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples, in which Bain Capital invested, says Hurricane Sandy broke up Romney's positive momentum and allowed Obama to get free media and appear "presidential."

He also says Romney just couldn't recover from his New York Times editorial headlined, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

"He never could explain that and though he was technically correct and even though Obama did bankrupt the auto industry it just never came across right," Stemberg says.

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GOP political consultants in key states add that Romney's campaign was also guilty of making tactical errors.

"The bottom line is that Boston ran the show and did so in a way that, to be quite honest, put some of us off," says a prominent Florida Republican political hand. He says Florida Republicans had proven their abilities in 2010 when they won the gubernatorial race and gained supermajorities in the legislature. Rather than pour capital into the state party's proven voter registration effort, the Romney campaign and national Republicans chose to scrap it in favor of a national firm that ended up getting headlines for potential fraud.

"Boston didn't really empower us much," he says.

He also offers criticism for the presidential campaign, which he claims (as others have) that the decision to treat the 2008 voter turnout as an anomaly and base their polling on a whiter more conservative electorate was "absurd."

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"I'll tell you who I'm glad I ain't – [Romney pollster] Neil Newhouse," he says. "If they thought they were going to lose, they're Oscar-winning actors."

Trey Hardin is a former Virginia Republican political consultant with White House experience and now senior vice president at VOX Global, a bipartisan public affairs firm. He says the presidential race was a "huge opportunity" for Republicans but they blew it.

"We just got our tails kicked, organizationally and tactically," he says. "It is very clear that the Obama organization from 2008 that has been heralded a lot of praise and a lot of discussion about how it's revolutionized campaigning in different ways, it's very clear that Chicago was able to sustain that."

Romney, as a consequence of having to move to the right to emerge from the Republican primary process, was "never able to really create the identity that he needed to create to appeal to a general electorate."

"It's one thing to be pro-life," Hardin says. "But it's another thing to push that as a public policy when you're basically going against the reality that the nation is moving away from that. [Republicans] are just viewed universally as being against certain voting segments and the Democrats don't carry that tag right now."

But the demographic realities have been apparent for some time and it remains to be seen whether or not Republicans as a national party are really ready to confront them.

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  • Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.