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Posted by on Nov 6, 2013 in Featured, Politics | 2 comments

2013 Election Results: Republican Establishment and RINOS aren’t dead

David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star

David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star

Attention new and old media: it may be time to change the narrative. The 2013 election results showed the Republican establishment and RINOs aren’t dead and that, in fact, if the GOP wants to win elections — quite seriously a big if, when you’re talking about the party’s hard-core, far right ideoligists — there are clear lessons to be learned. One: the Tea Party isn’t dead but it has lost its streamroller, dominant status. For now, at least.

The old Rodney Dangerfield line that is now a cliche applies here: in recent months, the Republican establishment and RINO didn’t get no respect. That has likely changed — more than a little bit — after yesterday’s election results were counted.

Expect the civil war within the GOP to accelerate amid massive finger pointing for losses, each side saying they offer voters “real” Republicanism, and conservative talk show hosts working hard to fan the flames. NBC’s First Read puts what occurred and what it means to the Republican Party into perspective:

*** The GOP establishment strikes back — but with an asterisk: If you’re an establishment Republican who wants to regain control of the GOP from the Tea Party, last night was a good night. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) cruised to re-election, getting impressive scores with Democrats (getting 32% of that vote), Latinos (51%), and even African Americans (21%). In Alabama’s congressional GOP runoff, the establishment-backed Bradley Byrne beat Tea Party candidate Dean Young. And in Virginia’s high-profile gubernatorial race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Why was that result bad news for the Tea Party? Because it’s not hard to believe that another Republican running for the office — term-limited Gov. Bob McDonnell (who had a 52% approval rating in the exit polls) or Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (who took a pass on the race given that the party’s nomination was going to be decided via a convention instead of a primary) — probably would have won last night’s race. From the start, the joke about Virginia’s gubernatorial contest was that the only person whom Cuccinelli could beat was McAuliffe, and the only person McAuliffe could beat was Cuccinelli. And who ended up being the more flawed candidate in the purple state President Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012? Answer: Cuccinelli. Establishment Republicans will add last night’s Virginia race to the list of races the Tea Party has thrown away — Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada in 2010; Indiana and Missouri in 2012.

And it also asks this question:

‘*** Did the establishment abandon Cuccinelli? But there is a BIG asterisk to this last point in Virginia. Given the close margin — McAuliffe 48%, Cuccinelli 45% (though the Democrat’s lead could grow once all the votes are counted, a la what happened in 2012) — Tea Party Republicans have a different take on the race: They are wondering what could have been if the GOP and its wealthy donors gave more support to Cuccinelli in the closing weeks. Why didn’t more big-money Republicans donate to Cuccinelli (remember, Virginia’s campaign-finance laws so loose, a donor could have written him a $1 million check)? Why didn’t the Republican National Committee give him more money (in fairness, the RNC started out ’13 with a LOT less money than it had in ’09, some $20 million less)? Why didn’t Christie campaign for Cuccinelli after the Cuccinelli campaign begged him? Folks, these questions have the potential to pour gasoline on the ideological fire inside the Republican Party. And so it doesn’t seem like Virginia’s results are going to settle this GOP divide. But we’ll go back to the point we made above: Would Republicans even be talking about a loss had Bill Bolling been their nominee?

And, The Politico notes, conservative GOPers see no real lesson in this for them at all:

Anyone expecting Ken Cuccinelli and the conservative wing of the Virginia GOP to lie down and admit defeat was disappointed Tuesday night.

After Cuccinelli’s closer-than-expected loss, the defiant candidate and his supporters said the election results were only a blip on the radar of the larger conservative struggle as they blamed the defeat on Obamacare and a deluge of Democratic attack ads. Some Cuccinelli backers privately steamed that the national party did not do more to shore up Cuccinelli against Democrat Terry McAuliffe and his enormous war chest.

The Republican candidate’s surprise showing touched off a round of recriminations among the GOP’s conservative and moderate wings — between Republicans who say Cuccinelli’s strict profile on social issues antagonized critical middle-of-the-road voters and those who say a good conservative candidate was tossed overboard by his party leadership. A lopsided Democratic victory might have given moderates a clear leg up in that debate; instead, the battle between the two factions over what – if anything – needs to change is bound to rage on.

“This isn’t a total loss at all,” Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins told the crowd after Cuccinelli conceded the governor’s race.

“Keep in mind that Terry McAuliffe got less than 50 percent of the vote, so he does not have a mandate to do anything. And looking at the House races … we still have a [Republican-led] House that will block any crazy ideas he may have.”
Mullins blasted out-of-state Democratic money and media bias as the major sources of Cuccinelli’s problems in the race.
“Our candidates are decent, honest family men. They love their families, they love their God, they love their country and this commonwealth but for the last six months they’ve been nonstop demonized by Democrats,” Mullins said before the race was called. “[Democrats say] we hate women, we hate minorities, we hate everything. But that’s not who these people are.”

But John Avlon, a CNN contributor and Executive Editor of The Daily Beast — who wrote one of the best books ever on independent voters and America’s political center — nails it: in the case of New Jersey’s Chris Christie’s mega-impressive re-election win in New Jersey, it was The Revenge of the Rinos. And RINOland was offering the GOP a possible path to victory, if it doesn’t want to follow the path to the exclusive Tea Party:

Chris Christie’s landslide reelection in a state President Obama won by 17 points offers the GOP a memo on how to win in 2016, if it wants one.

Don’t just fixate on the top-line numbers. They obscure the real story. Look instead at Christie’s initial exit poll margins among women, independent voters, moderates, the middle class, Hispanics, and African-Americans. In those cross-tab stats, you see the outlines of a candidate who can dig the GOP out of the demographic trap it’s facing.

Let’s start with the gender gap. Christie proved not just able to bridge it but reverse it. He won women by 15 points against a woman challenger, Democrat Barbara Buono. Christie counts himself as anti-abortion rights, but he isn’t obsessive about it in the same way that, say, Ken Cuccinelli ideologically and theologically approaches restricting a woman’s right to choose, which led him to lose suburban Virginia women decisively. The lesson? Extremism alienates. Moderation matters.

Independent voters make up 48 percent of registered voters in New Jersey, and Christie won them by a towering 31-point margin, 64 to 33 percent. That isn’t subtle and is key to putting together a winning coalition, not just in national elections but in early primary states such as New Hampshire and Iowa, where independents also make up a plurality of registered voters. But in 2012 Mitt Romney won independent voters and still lost the election because he lost moderate voters by double digits. Christie reconnected the traditional overlap between independents and centrists by winning moderates by 21 points, despite the GOP’s recent brand damage courtesy of Ted Cruz and the shutdown crowd.

The essential electoral demographic is the middle class, and Christie won voters making between $50,000 and $100,000 by 16 points. Perhaps even more important, among voters for whom the economy was the most important issue, Christie won by more than 30 points. That is the kind of kitchen table connection Republicans have been struggling to make since the economy collapsed at the start of the Great Recession in the fall of 2008.

He also notes Christie’s strength among non-white voters — a demographic Tea Partiers, talk show hosts and some members of the new and old conservative media seem to be working overtime to insult, disdain and alienate. MORE Avlon:

These margins matter. They demonstrate an ability to heal some of the demographic divisions that drive our partisan politics, especially in the age of Obama.

Not incidentally, Christie was able to win 31 percent of Democratic voters, despite taking on the teachers union and other liberal sacred cows while refusing to raise taxes even as he tackled a multibillion-dollar budget gap. And he can credibly point to a record of leadership built on forging bipartisan solutions in the state Legislature……

Bottom line: On Tuesday night, Christie went a long way toward establishing himself as the Republican Bill Clinton, a charismatic candidate able to re-center his party and reach out beyond the base even in traditionally hostile territory. Hard-core conservatives might call him a RINO—a Republican in Name Only—but there’s another name for it. A winner.

Go to the link and read it in full.
The Week’s Keith Wagstaff says RINOS are the GOP’s future — not the Tea Party:

Ever since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, his state ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, extended his hand to President Barack Obama, the Tea Party has been adamant in calling him a Republican in Name Only (RINO), a sin exceeded only by being a Democrat.

Yesterday, Christie won re-election in a landslide. The Tea Party didn’t fare as well. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, despite running in a state that — while turning purple — is far more conservative than solidly blue New Jersey.

In Alabama, establishment Republicans scored another victory when former state Senator Bradley Byrne defeated Dean Young, a Tea Party favorite who insists that the president was born in Kenya, to become the GOP’s candidate in the state’s 1st Congressional District.

Both Christie and Byrne have been decried as RINOs, which, to outsiders, seems odd, seeing as both have solidly conservative voting records — especially on economic issues.

He looks at some other races and writes:

Of course, two gubernatorial races and one Congressional race isn’t a large enough sample size to declare the Tea Party dead. The real test will come next year during the 2014 midterm elections.

But the narrative that the Tea Party is the inexorable wave of the GOP’s future has — for now, at least — been halted.

Now it’s Republicans who are center right, moderates or members of the GOP establishment who have the mantra “hope and change…”

FOOTNOTE: Was Obamacare an albatross for McAullife? Talking Points Memo reports the opposite:

Geoff Garin, pollster for Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, said Wednesday that GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s position on Obamacare may have cost him the election.

“We tested Cuccinelli’s brag that he was the first attorney general to sue to stop Obamacare,” Garin said. “That actually made more voters less likely to support him than more.”

Garin said that even for voters who disapprove of the health care law, Cuccinelli’s stance was too extreme.

“A majority disapproved of the Affordable Care Act, but in Virginia, as elsewhere, we found that a lot of these voters want to fix the law,” Garin told the Washington Post. “‘Cuccinellis’ position on Obamacare actually supported what we were saying about him, which is that he was extreme and supported a national Tea Party agenda.”

Which again suggests that candidates could pay a price if they are perceived too far out of the “sensible center” on issues.

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