A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Post-Convention GOP
Facts are important, but it’s more fun to hear what people think. There have been a lot of interviews of Republican advisers since the RNC convention closed last week. We chose a few to share. First, Karl Rove. Depending on your political perspective, Karl Rove is an angel or a devil, but nobody denies that he knows politics.
OZY just released an interview with the GOP guru, in which he has said about the future. Let’s look at some of the other things he had to say.
The Republican Party will go through introspection — otherwise known as fratricidal warfare. But the Republicans will have what could be an advantage, but also a disadvantage, over the Democrats because the Republicans have a much deeper bench. So they will have a lot more people angling for the future of the party.
How about the chances for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson?
Third-party candidates fade like the morning dew. You know where Johnson is polling the highest in any state poll? Utah. Now I went to high school in Utah, a couple years in college. Let me tell you: People who think caffeine — Coke and coffee — are dangerous drugs are not going to be voting for someone who smokes dope on a daily basis.
And Ted Cruz’ decision to give “the non-endorsement speech” at the convention?
I have rarely seen somebody commit political suicide on a nationally televised audience like that. I understand people whose attitude is that they can’t support Trump as the nominee. But to accept a place at the Republican National Convention and then give a speech like that … if you accept the king’s coin, you have to play the king’s song.
HuffPost did an interview with three top advisors inside the Bush (Danny Diaz), Cruz (Jeff Roe), and Rubio (Alex Conant) camps—to see what this year’s campaign season was like from the inside.
To help you keep track of which camp said what, we’ll refer to the candidate, not the actual speaker. That is, if Diaz says something, we’ll put “Bush.”
The first question was, when did you realize your campaign plan was meaningless?
[Bush advisor:] Right after Labor Day, we understood that it was going to be a really, really difficult race for us, despite the advantages that we had. It was persistent in the survey work just the level of unhappiness, anger and disaffection among voters.
And did they realize Trump was a threat?
[Rubio advisor:] I was skeptical. Like a lot of people, I didn’t even know if he would qualify for the first debate. I didn’t know if he would be willing to file the FEC financial disclosures, or if the networks would take him seriously enough to allow him to be on the stage.
I had the editor of a major news outlet tell us that for every candidate who enters the race, they do five stories, including a deep dive on their background and a fact-check of their speech. But they weren’t doing that for Trump because they didn’t take him seriously. They just viewed it as publicity. And that was how I thought about his candidacy as he came down the escalator.[Bush advisor:] If you took a cursory look at his record, the positions and stances he had taken, and lined those up against where conservative voters are, it was hard to see how those two lines connected at the outset.
Trump has made a lot of controversial statements. Which one did you think would do him in?
[Cruz advisor:] His brand was being politically incorrect: He’s saying everything that you’ve always wanted to say. You might not like it, but he’s speaking for you. He’s the billionaire blue-collar guy. That’s why this Mexican judge thing is different. That’s him looking out for himself, instead of him looking out for you.
What was your campaign’s low point?
[Rubio advisor:] The New Hampshire debate was our low point. . .the media narrative coming out was just devastating.
Cruz kept saying that he wanted a one-on-one battle with Trump, but others stayed in the race. How did that make you feel?
[Cruz advisor:] I mean I’m upset at, routinely, all of the other candidates. But in reverse order: I do not know why John Kasich did not get out after Wisconsin, I don’t know why Marco didn’t get out after March 1, I don’t know why Ben Carson didn’t get out after Iowa. Actually, I was sad, more than mad, watching him be used by other campaigns as a wedge. Here was someone, who is by all accounts a great man, being completely manipulated.
Was there any backchannel communication to team up against Trump?
[Bush advisor:] Look, there’s always backchannel communication. But I think it would’ve taken more than one or two campaigns. I think the campaigns would’ve all needed to come together to say, “Hey, there’s a line in the sand here that’s been drawn, and we need to come together to vote someone off the island.” [Rubio advisor:] In a typical election cycle you wouldn’t need all the campaigns to make that agreement. It would just be recognized by all of them that Trump is a huge threat, not just to the collective but to each campaign, and they would all target him in their own way and put an immense amount of pressure on him and his team. And that just never happened. He got a free pass from most of the other campaigns.
Has Trump changed the Republican Party?
[Bush advisor:] I watch the shows and folks go on and they’re like, “Republican politics has changed forever. This has undone everything that has happened over the last however many decades or generations.” But I think we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves. This is a unique person, and the timing worked incredibly in his favor.
Could Trump change the country?
[Rubio advisor:] So, after Marco dropped out, I was invited by the State Department to do a bipartisan speaking tour in Australia. And the number one question I got from Australian officials was, “If he’s elected president, what happens to the U.S.-Australian relationship?” And my answer was always, “Look, our relationship with an ally like Australia is much bigger than any one individual.” And I sort of think the same about our country here. He’s just one person. And no matter how bad you think he might be, our country is stronger. We’ve had bad presidents in the past.
What about media treatment of Trump?
[Bush advisor:] The media would be wise to come out and tell the truth, which is: We make business decisions, and the reality is that this guy sells magazines and ads. [Cruz advisor:] After Wisconsin, we had won four states in a row. We were having a moment. So we wrote a 13-minute speech, and it was one of our best speeches. We actually got the framing right, we got the look right. And 7 minutes and 11 seconds in, Fox News cuts away from our speech to a segment that shows how Donald can still win the nomination before June 7. That’s what they cut to. That’s a stunning thing, that’s a major political development. And those kind of decisions are not made by the beat reporters. [Bush advisor:] Let me raise another one. George W. Bush had not campaigned in more than a decade. He goes out into Charleston, South Carolina, for Jeb Bush, and most of the cables did not carry it live. You have the former president of the United States, and how many stories have been written about him being a private kind of citizen, and if Donald Trump had given a speech on whatever, they all would’ve carried it live.
Can Trump win in the fall?
[Bush advisor:] The reality is that we start with a very difficult map. I worked on the ’04 campaign and that campaign carried Virginia, it carried Colorado, carried Nevada, New Mexico, it carried a lot of these swing states that are now moving in the opposite direction. As a Republican, we should start from the perspective of understanding that it’s a very heavy lift to begin with. [Cruz advisor:] There are 120 days until early voting, 153 days until Election Day. The ground game—a good organization—gets you anywhere between 2.5 and 5.5 points, and if he’s giving all that away, that’s a problem. But I think he can win. I can see a Trump victory. I can see a Clinton blowout. And I think we’ll end up somewhere between.