Once the 2012 election cycle came and went, and Republican officials examined Democratic successes up and down the ballot, GOP officials took deliberate and constructive steps to prevent another disaster.
Indeed, Republicans genuinely believed that it wasn’t just their candidates and message that led to Democratic victories, but rather, the process itself undermined the party’s chances and produced a weakened national nominee. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler had a good piece on this about a month ago.
After the  election, the Republican National Committee set about sanding off the party’s rough edges. It encouraged Republicans to pass immigration reform and soften their rhetorical tropes, and in so doing repair the party’s relationship with a younger, more diverse segment of the electorate.It also set about tightening the rules governing primary debates – to limit the total number of them, exclude certain networks and moderators, and penalize candidates for circumventing the process. By doing so, the RNC hoped the party could escape its own primary without incurring the self-inflicted wounds it suffered in 2012.
And at face value, Reince Priebus’ plan wasn’t bad at all. Republicans would curtail the number of debates, choose moderators satisfying to the party, front-load the nominating process, and effectively stack the deck in favor of established, electable candidates. Before the process even began, GOP lawmakers would 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.
Is anyone, on either side of the political divide, prepared to say the Republican plan worked?
There are far fewer debates, but they’re still a mess – first Fox clumsily bungled the process of dealing with a 17-candidate field, and now CNN is struggling in similar ways.
All the while, instead of having Republican White House hopefuls saying embarrassing things at the debates, we see GOP candidates saying embarrassing things in the hopes of generating attention that will get them into the debates.
The process that was supposed to favor established candidates has propelled a former reality-show host and a retired right-wing neurosurgeon into the top tier, and en masse, Republican voters themselves continue to believe bizarre nonsense, making a sensible intra-party discussion difficult, if not impossible.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s quite possible that the RNC misdiagnosed the party’s troubles. As the sensible plan unravels, and the circus takes over, maybe the party’s challenges are rooted less in the nominating process and more in the radicalization of Republican politics itself.