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RYUN: GOP postelection blame game is all wrong

Poor campaigning, not principles, reason for loss

- - Friday, November 16, 2012

Postelection attempts to redefine the Republican Party are getting so predictable.

The David Frums and David Brookses of the party use every election -- even the 2010 conservative blowout -- to call for moderation, arguing that we would win if we were more progressive. Mr. Frum even pre-wrote an e-book, "Why Romney Lost," to fit his repackaged narrative. (See his 1995 book "Dead Right.") Has anyone noticed he also said almost the exact same thing in 2008, when we ran a candidate who was even more moderate?

Enough. Conservatives need to shut Mr. Frum up and tell him to go home to Canada, where he was born and raised.

Even if it were politically shrewd to become a more moderate party -- which it isn't -- conservatives would never go along. We care about our principles, and if the GOP sacrifices those, we have no motivation to remain in the Republican Party or to see it succeed.

Republicans didn't lose the 2012 election because we were too conservative. We lost because we conceded important issues like what happened in Benghazi, Libya, and Obamacare and refused to implement a comprehensive ground-game strategy. We tried to convince Americans of Mitt Romney's merits without a unified message, using the most annoying tactics possible: hundreds of thousands of demagogic ads and pestering robo-calls. That's no way to build a movement.

President Obama didn't win because he had a more moderate message. If anything, his message was even more partisan and divisive. Mr. Obama won by taking his message directly to voters using the most robust in-person voter-outreach campaign ever. The Obama campaign focused and put real money toward door-to-door, personal voter interactions. The GOP and its super PACs blew cash on hundreds and hundreds of ads and tens of millions of robo-calls, which voters reasonably and predictably tuned out.

It's not our principles that are the problem. The problem is our voter-outreach tactics.

The Obama campaign never stopped canvassing swing voters after 2008, and it dedicated significant funds to grass-roots community organizing. The campaign used real people, not machines and TVs, to ask for people's votes. It used smartphone GOTV (get out the vote) technology, not out-of-date databases and 1980s-style canvassing, to turn out their base and reach swing voters.

The Romney campaign and its supporting super PACs were stuck in the Stone Age.

First, the never-beta-tested ORCA technology that was supposed to fundamentally change the game crashed miserably, sending volunteers back to using pencils, clipboards and old-school data-entry. Even with ORCA, they targeted only independents, which worked great in 1988 but proved fatal in 2012. The campaign wrote off youth, Asian and Hispanic communities -- and Mr. Obama's blowout among those voters fueled his victory. Mr. Romney didn't need to win those demographics, he just needed not to lose them as badly as he did.

Speaking of database targeting, how did the Romney campaign lose 2 million voters? John McCain recruited 2 million more voters than Mr. Romney, and that's embarrassing -- especially considering we lost the swing states of Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado by less than 400,000 votes combined.

If it wasn't the database, maybe it was because the campaign was also late and slow to deploy "victory" offices, which serve as the headquarters for grass-roots campaigning. Most swing-state offices weren't running until June or even August, whereas Mr. Obama started at the beginning of the year and, in some cases, had never closed his 2008 offices. Yes, the GOP primary wasn't over until late spring, but Mr. Romney -- who had been running for six years and was the clear front-runner -- should have been ready for a quicker launch. Moreover, GOP PACs should have been on the ground organizing against Mr. Obama before the primary was over. Instead, they were busy making ineffective ads.

Before Republicans throw out all conservative principles with the election bath water, can we try to run a great campaign first?

Here's what it looks like: First, we need to be constantly interacting with voters and community-organizing, either centered around candidates or policy proposals. Second, we need to match the left's ground game by starting GOTV much earlier in the election year, focused specifically on the six to 10 swing states we need to win. Third, we need to spend more money on volunteer organizing (for door-to-door, especially) and less money on robo-calls and TV ads. Fourth, we need the best smartphone technology and comprehensive databases. Fifth, we need to reach out to all communities -- no voting bloc left behind.

Conservatives have four years to accomplish these five necessities. We hope, for our country's sake, they get started ASAP.

Ned Ryun is president of American Majority Action and sponsor of the national Liberty Headquarters program.