It’s worth remembering that in 2012, the Republican Party was so dead in America that the Republican National Committee conducted an “autopsy.”
As fingers of blame point from all directions at former president Donald Trump for the Republicans’ failed “red wave” in the midterm elections, no one seems to recall that there was a toe tag fastened on the party, rhetorically, after Mitt Romney’s abysmal showing in the 2012 presidential election. That loss followed John McCain’s failed effort four years earlier.
And here in California, many Republicans who are currently dismayed at the thought of a third Trump campaign may have forgotten that the kind of Republicans they prefer had already lost every statewide office and all their leverage in the Legislature long before the billionaire candidate came down the escalator.
History did not begin in 2015.
The 2012 “autopsy” was based on interviews with 2,600 voters, business leaders, party officials and experts, as well as a poll of Hispanic voters and an online survey of “stakeholders.” The report concluded that the party needed to spend more money on data work and more money paying staffers to do “outreach” to women and minorities. Most importantly, the GOP needed to support “comprehensive immigration reform” to overcome its image as a party of “stuffy old men.”
When the report was released in March 2013, not-yet-candidate Donald Trump had a few things to say about it.
“RNC report was written by the ruling class of consultants who blew the election,” Trump wrote on Twitter, “Short on ideas. Just giving excuses to donors.”
Almost exactly three years later, Trump was on the verge of winning the GOP nomination for president himself after doing the opposite of what the “autopsy” insisted was essential. Politico reported that “interviews with four co-authors of the 2012 autopsy and 10 other Republican leaders reveal a party establishment terrified that Trump is not only repeating the party’s failures — he’s destroying the party in the process.”
Mississippi Republican Henry Barbour, nephew of former Republican governor Haley Barbour and one of the authors of the “autopsy,” publicly scoffed at Trump’s claim that he would bring working-class Americans into the Republican fold. Barbour said Trump was “chasing some ghost” of non-existent Reagan Democrats.
Mitt Romney loudly denounced Trump as a “fraud,” a statement that Politico reported was “part of a last-ditch effort by Romney, 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain and other party leaders to snatch the primary back from Trump before he rolls through to the general election.”
But Trump was right. Exit polls in 2016 showed that he did better than previous GOP nominees among Black, Latino and Asian voters. In 2020, Trump’s share of the Hispanic vote rose to 32% from 28% four years earlier. And what about working-class voters? “Trump did better with those voters across the board than any Republican has in my lifetime since Ronald Reagan,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, told NPR in 2021.
Before Trump, Republican electoral dysfunction was variously blamed on the party’s views on immigration, health care reform, government shutdowns over budget disputes, the end of the Cold War or the latest nightmare on Wall Street.
Now it’s just blamed on Trump.
The former president announced his candidacy for the presidency on Tuesday, and the airwaves were thick with the groaning disapproval of potential Republican rivals. If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, you’re right. You saw it in the GOP primary debates during the 2016 campaign. “You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency,” a smirking Jeb Bush told Trump at a debate, shortly before low poll numbers bumped the former Florida governor off the stage.
The list of Washington power players who don’t want Trump back in the White House is long.
Trump is fiercely opposed by some high-ranking federal employees because of an executive order he signed known as “Schedule F.” Had it not been quickly rescinded by President Biden, it would have created a separate category for up to 50,000 federal employees who are involved in making policy or implementing it. These “Schedule F” employees could then be replaced by an incoming president instead of being protected by civil service rules from being fired. Schedule F is nuclear war against the so-called Deep State, the permanent federal employees who can block a president’s agenda by slow-walking everything until the clock runs out.
In September three federal employee organizations — the Senior Executives Association, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys and the Professional Managers Association — wrote letters to the House of Representatives in support of a bill that would prohibit a “Schedule F” in the federal workforce. The letters urged Congress to pass H.R. 302 in order to “prevent any president” from changing the rules and replacing the permanent government with his or her own appointees.
H.R. 302 passed in the House, but not the Senate, so the executive order could return if Trump does.
Others who don’t favor a Trump comeback, in addition to his rivals for the office, include anyone who benefits financially from policies he would oppose, whether related to trade, military interventions, budget priorities or anything else.
Who does favor a Trump comeback?
One hint comes from a comment made by Ada Fisher in 2016, when she was the RNC committeewoman from North Carolina. In the heat of apocalyptic rhetoric about Trump during the primaries, Fisher advised the GOP to support him if he won the nomination. “I spend a lot of time in beauty/barbershops, on the block and where ordinary people are,” she said. “They like Trump and his in-your-face style. He is viewed as sticking it to ’em.”
The 2012 autopsy never figured on that.
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