The 2012 election was supposed to be can't-miss for the GOP. By historical standards, 2014 is supposed to be a good year, too. Will the Republicans mess everything up again? Right now, they're figuring out their options.
Republicans are divided over whether to make attacking President Obama the central message of their campaign, The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters reports. Republicans figured out in the middle of 2012 that harsh attacks on Obama didn't work well. Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS showed ads of moms feeling disappointed in Obama instead. Today, a large majority still thinks Obama's likable. Those who think attacking Obama harshly won't work also point to 1998, when, for the first time since 1822, the party holding the White House gained seats in the midterm election of the president's sixth year in office. "I didn't want to talk about Clinton at all," former Rep. John Linder, who ran the National Republican Congressional Committee at the time, told the Times. Newt Gingrich disagreed. While Gingrich prevailed in the fight over strategy, Republicans did not prevail in the election, and Gingrich ended up losing his speakership. This time, Linder's advice to Republicans is "Don’t overreach." The trio of bureaucratic scandals don't directly trace back to Obama.
But if the scandals won't work, what about a message of healing Americans' economic pain? That might not sell either. The economy has improved, making that issue less important, Politico's Ben White reports. Unemployment is down, housing prices are up, the deficit is shrinking. Obama's job approval ratings on the economy are better than they've been since 2009. "The fact is the economy is probably going to look and feel very good next year," Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics told Politico. "The most likely outlook for Obama and the Democrats is pretty good growth and employment rising strongly. If you step back and look at it, it’s a hugely favorable scenario for them."
Perhaps a platform of smart new forward-looking solutions? Passing an immigration reform bill? Former President George W. Bush thinks Republicans aren't selling that very well, either. Many Republicans, like Sen. John McCain, and the Republican National Committee's 2012 autopsy, say the party needs to back immigration reform to win over Latinos. On a mountain biking excursion, the former president told the Huffington Post's Jon Ward, "The right reason is it's important to reform a broken system. I'm not sure a right reason is that in so doing we win votes. I mean when you do the right thing, I think you win votes, as opposed to doing something that's the right thing to win votes. Maybe there's no difference there. It seems like there is to me though." (Mitt Romney isn't sure what to do either.)
And Republicans don't just have to worry about the message — the messengers can cause them problems, too. In 2010 and 2012, Republicans lost several winnable Senate seats because of bad candidates like Christine O'Donnell and Todd Akin. Rove has created a no-more-Akins group to back quality candidates in primaries, outraging many conservatives. But there are several potential Akins running to replace Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Joe Miller, who almost cost Republicans a Senate seat in Alaska in 2010, is trying again in 2014. In Virginia, the GOP has nominated a gay-bashing preacher whose never held office for lieutenant governor, and in Colorado, anti-immigration former Rep. Tom Tancredo is running for governor, while moderate Rep. Cory Gardner has opted out of the Senate race. In swing states like that, National Journal's Josh Kraushaar points out, the GOP should be able to nominate moderates. The GOP has a few months left to figure it out.