Two people pointing each other

The Great Blame Game Begins

Republican consultants who are former Mitch McConnell employees and those who love McConnell have begun plotting how to rebuild the GOP after Trump loses. Their strategy: blame conservative activists and organizations affiliated with those activists.

Still committed to the idea that conservative groups are committed to profit instead of ideas, I’m afraid we are going to get nowhere.

The McConnell wing of the GOP feels emboldened right now because they have a lot of money, have been able to defeat conservatives in primaries, and they’ll still be in power when Trump is gone. Therein lies the rub. Trump may be gone, but the grievances that led to Trump will not be.

A lot of these guys refuse to accept any responsibility for the rise of Trump, instead blame shifting to everyone else. At this point I don’t think any of us can truly say it was all the other side. Every side carries some of the burden, including Democrats. For McConnell and friends to blame conservative groups “by setting expectation too high to reach in an era of Democratic control” just does not tell the full story. If you look at campaign ads of Republican leaders in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and read the direct mail their own vendors sent out, conservative groups are just keeping the establishment politicians to their campaign promises.

Do conservative activists and their affiliated groups bear some of the burden for the rise of Trump? Absolutely.

Does Mitch McConnell? Definitely.

The great problem the GOP is going to have moving forward is that the party elders in Washington are going to find comfort in retaining power as Trump loses and decide it was him, not them, all along. Meanwhile, the party’s popularity hovers around the popularity of syphilis and the base of the party’s anger at Washington has grown unabated. To blame that all on talk radio or conservative groups may make them all sleep well at night, but it also is not really true.

This also raises another issue.

The party establishment gets favorable treatment on Fox News, uses the Wall Street Journal editorial page as its mouthpiece, and has a bevy of reporters who serve as house stenographers. On Sunday shows and news programs, the bulk of the GOP voices are voices of the establishment of the party. The leaders of the party get more airtime and exposure than the House Freedom Caucus members. They also have more millionaires and billionaires funding them than funding those conservative groups they blame. The Chamber of Commerce has become a campaign arm of the establishment and was pretty effective in 2014.

If, with all of that, they have not been able to best conservative talk radio, bloggers, and a handful of outside groups, they’re pretty much screwed.

“It’s time for the conservative commentariat industry to be more responsible and focus on winning elections,” said GOP strategist Brad Todd [who backed Rubio’s rival in Florida this year], who advises House and Senate candidates.

That’s great to say. But it also is not a one way street. I keep being reminded of Nevada and Colorado in 2010. Sharon Angle won the primary in Nevada and Ken Buck did the same in Colorado. Both lost the general. Conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund were blamed for both by the very people now saying things like “the conservative commentariat industry to be more responsible and focus on winning elections.”

But the Senate Conservatives Fund did not support Sharon Angle in Nevada and actively tried to dissuade her from running. But it was convenient for the establishment to blame the SCF to the point that they now think this lie is the truth. Likewise, the NRSC spent Colorado primary dollars attacking Ken Buck, who still won the primary, then decided to pour resources into California in the general instead of Colorado. Buck lost by 1.7%. He actually won independent voters and did better than any other Republican on the ballot that year. That was the year the Colorado GOP imploded with its gubernatorial candidate getting 11.1% of the vote. Still, the NRSC and its friends blame SCF and conservatives for that loss instead of asking what more they could have done or not done.

I raise both examples because many of those plotting the blame game right now, like many Trump supporters, have to believe so much that is not so to escape any blame themselves. The GOP is not going to be able to find a good path forward if all its factions refuse self-assessment, instead preferring to blame the other guy.

And we will just keep repeating this over and over. Again — if you’ve got all the major media outlets, reporters as stenographers, the millionaires and billionaires, and the Chamber of Commerce, and you still fixate on talk radio, bloggers, and some outside groups as the source of all your problems, you’re screwed.

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Erick Erickson

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