Grassroots Infrastructure Is Key to Future Republican Success

Appearing in Newsweek.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill is best known for leading Great Britain during the fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. However, he lost reelection as prime minister on the eve of victory, just a month before the Japanese surrender in 1945. Churchill lost because he campaigned on the Allied victory in WWII, rather than on Britain’s postwar future. Elections are about the future, and even the great Winston Churchill failed to heed this basic rule of politics.

No one in GOP leadership is at the level of Winston Churchill, but they did make the same mistake this past election cycle. The GOP did a spectacular job of highlighting the issues, but failed to articulate to voters its plan to fix the problems it identified. Republicans took voters for granted, even publicly stating they could win on a “policy-free” midterm.

But voters aren’t as stupid as some members of the DC consultant class clearly think they are. The results speak for themselves; despite Biden’s historically low approval numbers, independents broke for Democrats. Voters rejected the GOP’s attempt to tie Democrats to inflation because they correctly recognized that Republicans were just as complicit in the massive spending packages for “infrastructure” and aid for Ukraine.

This was a failure by party leadership. Senate Minority Leader McConnell offered no platform at all, and House Minority Leader McCarthy offered up a “Commitment to America” that proved to be little more than platitudes. Campaigns lacking a vision yielded underwhelming results.

Not only did the GOP fail to plan for what it would do if given majorities in both the House and the Senate, it misdirected donor funds. Republican Senate candidates were vastly outspent in the general election. Blake Masters in Arizona was the most drastic example. He was outspent by Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly by more than seven to one. Kelly’s fundraising advantage allowed him to employ a ballot-chasing program that turned out low-propensity voters. Had Masters been able to employ a similar effort, he would not have had to close the gap on election night, when he soon found himself multiple points behind due to the difference in mail ballots.

The same was true in Nevada. Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt failed to employ a ballot-chasing campaign to turn out the vote. In contrast, Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo focused on a robust ballot-chasing program that saw him leading by five percentage points on election night, compared with Laxalt’s two. Lombardo’s $3.5 million canvassing effort was enough to counteract the Democrats’ 450 union canvassers who knocked over a million doors.

Nationwide, Democrats brought in $1.5 billion in “dark money” for election activities. Groups like the D.C.-based Arabella Advisors, which manages a secretive network of left-wing nonprofits, spent $1 billion last year.

Republicans are getting beat in fundraising, and they are getting beat when it comes to the actual campaign mechanics that contribute to a solid ground game.

Campaign mechanics are key. These are the fundamentals of a ground game; the door knocking and canvassing that contribute to a campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts. As previously noted, Republicans in Arizona and Nevada were caught flat footed by Democrats’ focus on turning out the absentee mail vote, instead pushing to surge turnout on Election Day.

Successful campaigns are not run on the election laws that should be in place. Rather, successful campaigns are run based on the rules you are dealt. By failing to account for the ubiquity of voting by mail, Republicans lost even when they won the turnout game on Election Day. Republicans may oppose voting by mail in principle, but it’s the name of the game when it comes to modern-day American politics.

But the biggest failure by Republicans when it came to the ground game was the lack of an effective grassroots infrastructure early in the cycle. The Republican Party failed to invest early in most districts, opting instead for a September-October push that amounted to too little, too late. Without the proper infrastructure in place early in the cycle, Republican voter turnout efforts could not compete with the Left’s juggernaut of a mail ballot campaign.

Republican candidates would do well to take a page out of the Democrats’ 2004 autopsy and start outsourcing their grassroots efforts early in the campaign cycle. If the Republican Party apparatus cannot be trusted to get involved locally from the start, our movement must turn to outside groups and the grassroots themselves.

Republicans still won the House this cycle. But without a coherent platform, a sufficient war chest, and an energized grassroots effort, Republicans will face an uphill climb in national races for many cycles to come.

For media inquiries, contact Peter Vicenzi, pvicenzi@freedomworks.org.

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