Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus had hoped for a very different kind of 2016 election cycle. As we discussed a while back, the RNC chief intended to curtail the number of debates, front-load the nominating process, and effectively stack the deck in favor of established, electable candidates. Before the process even began, GOP lawmakers were also supposed to take lessons from the 2012 losses, pass immigration reform, and take steps to broaden the base.
The party, the argument went, would position itself for victory in 2016 by avoiding an embarrassing circus and steering clear of a madcap process that tarnished the party and its candidates alike.
The execution of Priebus’ plan has worked out quite differently, and when he sat down yesterday with the conservative Washington Examiner, he looked ahead to next fall.
…”I think that we have become, unfortunately, a midterm party that doesn’t lose and a presidential party that’s had a really hard time winning,” Priebus said. “We’re seeing more and more that if you don’t hold the White House, it’s very difficult to govern in this country – especially in Washington D.C.”“So I think that – I do think that we’re cooked as a party for quite a while as a party if we don’t win in 2016. So I do think that it’s going to be hard to dig out of something like that,” Priebus told the Examiner.
It’s a fair assessment. Looking back over the last six presidential elections, Democrats have won the popular vote five times. If Dems expand that to a six-out-of-seven advantage, it will be that much more difficult for Republicans to characterize themselves as a national governing party.
What’s less clear is the practical implication of defeat. When Priebus imagines the Republican Party as “cooked … for quite a while,” I’m not entirely sure what he means in applied terms. Does the RNC chair think another defeat would be an impetus for dramatic intra-party change? Does he envision a splintering of the party in which right-wing members break off?
In the same interview, Priebus added that he doesn’t “anticipate” another rough cycle next year. “I think … history is on our side,” he told the Examiner.
As a factual matter, he’s entirely correct. Looking back over the post-WWII era, parties have nearly always struggled to hold onto the White House for three straight elections. Democrats do, in fact, go into 2016 facing historical headwinds.
But it’s nevertheless easy to imagine Dems prevailing anyway, leaving Republicans “cooked.”