Remember the movie “Groundhog Day?” Starring Bill Murray, it told the story of a newscaster who was stuck in a time loop, waking up to the same song in the same small town, destined to relive the same day over and over.
But while Murray’s character would eventually escape his fate, Republicans seem content to voluntarily keep doing the same things over and over, believing that if they just grit their teeth enough, it’ll finally be different next time.
Think back to the day after the 2022 election. The GOP was predicted by essentially everyone to have a red wave, but in the end, it was a red trickle. Garnering only a four-seat majority in the House and actually losing ground in the Senate, it was one of the largest underperformances in recent memory when considering the timing and fundamentals at play.
The morning after, I penned a piece entitled “I’m Sick of Losing, I Hope You Are Too.” In it, I detailed the stagnant nature of the GOP, including the fact that there’s no accountability for the party’s leadership. Contrary to my hopes of an enduring wake-up call, though, nothing really changed.
In January of 2023, the incumbent chair easily won re-election to head the RNC, marking her fourth ascent to the position. A few months after that, Donald Trump was indicted in New York, an event that returned most GOP primary voters to their respective corners. All the post-2022 talk about accountability and having a rigorous debate completely evaporated, only to be replaced by memes and an obsession with one 2024 candidate’s footwear.
What did that get us? It got us another losing election on Tuesday.
Aside from some state-level contests in Virginia, where Republicans fell short in gaining control of the legislature (it was always a long shot in a blue state) but did largely improve on 2020 margins, it was another disappointing night for the GOP. Republicans lost key races in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey while coming dangerously close to losing the governorship in Mississipi.
The most high-profile loss occurred in Kentucky, though, where Democrat Andy Beshear easily bested Republican Daniel Cameron. Just days prior, Republicans had touted a poll from Emerson showing the race tied. I was less than convinced, delivering this warning instead.
I don't know who wins this race, but be warned, if you are using Emerson to judge momentum, you are probably going to be disappointed.— Bonchie (@bonchieredstate) November 3, 2023
For ample evidence of that, go look up their final polls in AZ, GA, PA, and NV in 2022. https://t.co/lO2f24ZGuv
It was a small thing overall, but it was a good example of how GOP politicians, influencers, and yes, voters continue to delude themselves with feel-good bait instead of making the changes necessary to win tough elections. Republicans should spend less time fawning over polls with unrealistic crosstabs and more time honing an actual message that appeals to voters.
Which brings me to Cameron’s actual campaign. If you lived in Kentucky, you were bombarded with ads and social media posts that centered on one thing and one thing only: Being endorsed by Donald Trump. In fact, Cameron began his general election campaign by taking a shot at Ron DeSantis, who had endorsed one of his opponents, proclaiming the “Trump culture of winning is alive and well.”
Perhaps it is for Trump himself. Assuming everything remains static in the presidential primary, Republicans are going to re-run that play again in 2024. It’s either going to work or it’s not. What should be clear to every Republican breathing by now, though, is that other candidates need more than a Trump endorsement to win.
Cameron didn’t spend the waning weeks of his campaign being his own man, making a forceful case to voters. Instead, he spent it talking about a Trump tele-rally and releasing videos from Trump while emblazoning “Trump-endorsed” on every piece of media he could find.
This is the part where I could get bogged down in arguing Trump’s effect on the broader electorate, and there’s an argument to be had there, but I’m not going to do that. As I said, Republicans are almost certainly going to get a definitive answer on that in a year, for better or worse. Rather, the point I’m making is that candidates who aren’t Donald Trump need to stop centering their messages on endorsements and start actually running competent campaigns. Voters don’t want cheap copies. They want candidates who speak for themselves.
With that said, we can’t talk about incompetence without returning to the broader party dynamics. Republicans once again got absolutely trounced in spending and get-out-the-vote infrastructure. The only contest where the GOP wasn’t outspent was in Mississippi, and it took every dollar there to ensure it didn’t go to a runoff. We are talking about one of the most conservative states in the union.
Are Republican voters going to care?
To be frank, I doubt it. Despite some on the margins like myself begging the GOP to make big changes following the 2022 election, it didn’t happen. Why should I expect that to happen now? Failure is rewarded in the Republican Party. It juices fundraising for a select few. It gets more engagement on social media. It produces the dopamine hit of victimhood that Republicans have become addicted to in lieu of, you know, actually winning elections.
Once again, I’m sick of losing. Unlike the last time I wrote on this topic, though, my faith that anything will change is at an all-time low. With that said, nothing would make me happier than for Republicans to prove me wrong.