As a Republican who began his volunteer activities in Georgia in the 1960 Richard Nixon-Henry Lodge campaign (I was in high school and there was such a small Georgia GOP that everyone was welcome) I think it is necessary to have the courage to face the depth and scale of yesterday’s disaster in Georgia.
As Winston Churchill said of Neville Chamberlain’s Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler, “I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat.”
The British establishment of course ignored Churchill, and for another year continued to pretend it was possible to have business as usual with a vicious dictator with megalomaniac pretensions.
Many Republicans will try to avoid the scale of Tuesday’s defeat, but that would be an enormous mistake.
Everything we said about how important this runoff was (the most consequential in history) and the impact of losing it (a profound shift in power from Republicans to Sen. Charles E. Schumer and the Senate Democrats) was true.
This vital runoff has now been lost. There is still some clinging to hope for Sen. David Perdue, but as I write virtually all of the uncounted votes come from Democratic areas.
This double victory will be an enormous morale boost — and a real increase in power for the Washington Democrats.
So, what lessons must we learn from this disaster of the first order?
We should look at the series of often unrelated events and activities which made a Republican victory much more difficult.
First, the remarkable job Stacey Abrams has done in building a powerful first-class voting machine in Georgia (making herself the most likely next governor). She has spent two full years raising money nationally and building an organization that can turn out the vote on an unprecedented scale. She was a major factor in carrying Georgia for President-elect Joseph R. Biden and in electing the two Democrats in the runoff. By force of personality and a lot of hard work, she is becoming a major player. Republicans must study her and what she has achieved and figure out how to overmatch it.
Then there is the polarization of Americans into pro- and anti-Trump. It has such intensity that what would have normally been powerful attacks against Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock were simply ignored or shrugged off by their polarized supporters.
I was really surprised at how little impact descriptions of Mr. Warnock’s radicalism had on voters who normally would have been appalled at some of his positions. Because of polarization, they had picked their team and they resented rather than listened to negative information about their side. It eliminated most of the argumentative side of campaigning and reduced the opportunity to have a campaign dialogue.
The civil war between Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the rest of the Republican Party, including President Trump, clearly had a distracting impact. Mr. Trump’s hour-long argument with Mr. Raffensperger further weakened enthusiasm as people couldn’t figure out what was going on or whom to believe.
This runoff was so vital that everything should have been subordinated to winning it. This clearly was not done. The bitterness on both sides of the Kemp-Raffensperger vs. Trump fight further weakened the GOP at a crucial moment. Perhaps the most devastating blow was the foolish push for Republicans to boycott the election.
The failure of Mr. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to coordinate what they would do on the $2,000-per-person stimulus proposal disappointed Trump populist voters and left Mr. Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler in difficult positions.
I warned at the time that trying clever parliamentary maneuvers would simply fail to satisfy the Republican base. As public policy the $2,000-per-person grant is a bad idea. However, as political policy in the most important runoff in American history, once Mr. Trump staked out a pro-$2,000 policy, the Senate GOP should have voted on it and given Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue a chance to prove to economic populists that they were on their side.
Further, there was a failure to follow up on Mr. Trump’s success with Hispanic voters and win the same share for the two senators (this would almost have been enough of a difference to decide the election). In November, Mr. Trump got a higher percentage of minority votes than any Republican in 60 years. The Georgia GOP should have spent far more resources on Hispanic and Asian American votes. This opportunity would have included highlighting the election of the largest number of Republican women and minority House members in history.
The decision by the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns to run almost entirely negative ads was a mistake. The complaints I received about the ads from many pro-Republican sources was a warning that something was not working. As my daughter, Jackie Cushman, said, it gave the appearance that Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler weren’t running for anything but only against their opponents. This isn’t a great position for any campaign — especially incumbents. Meanwhile, the Democrats had some positive ads designed to communicate warm, caring personalities. All too many of our consultants have grown stale and only want to repeat things that used to work. I have heard from several people in Georgia who said the campaign-runners simply wouldn’t hear suggestions to try different, more positive messages.
Finally, there is the failure to address or clean up the accusations of a corrupt election process which arose from the Nov. 3 vote. This failure is the most amazing thing I have seen in six decades of Republican politics. Despite serious concerns from many Georgians, Mr. Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger took the position that everything was fine — or simply unfixable. This did nothing to increase public trust or credibility.
This is a brief introduction to what should be a much longer and more detailed inquest. These two races were winnable. But all too many of the participants, supporters, and major players had agendas that put the GOP victory at risk. The result is a nightmare from which we will spend years recovering.
• To read, hear, and watch more of Newt’s commentary, visit Gingrich360.com.