In the wake of Mitt Romney's loss, many Republicans say the GOP must make far-reaching changes to be competitive in future elections. White voters are a smaller and smaller part of the electorate, they point out, while Latinos and other minorities are growing as a percentage of the voting public. Unless the Republican Party reinvents itself to appeal to those voters, the argument goes, the GOP can get used to being out of power.
There's something to that. The electorate is changing, and the Republican Party needs to keep up with the times. But the more fundamental answer to the GOP's problems could be much simpler than that. To win the next time, Republicans need to find a really good candidate. Just listen to the masterminds of Barack Obama's victories in 2008 and 2012.
On Thursday afternoon, the Obama campaign held its last conference call for reporters. Toward the end of the call, the three top officials in Obama's re-election effort -- David Axelrod, Jim Messina and David Plouffe -- were asked what will happen to the mighty Obama campaign now. What next for the enormous campaign infrastructure, with its massive databases and voter profiles? Will it go to a new candidate?
"You can't just transfer this," said senior adviser Plouffe. "People are not going to spend hours away from their families, and their jobs, contributing financially when it's hard for them to do it, unless they believe in the candidate."
"All of this, the door knocks ... the contributions made, the phone calls made, were because these people believed in Barack Obama," Plouffe continued. "And so for candidates who want to try and build a grassroots campaign, it's not going to happen because there's a list or because you have the best technology. That's not how this works. They have to build up that kind of emotional appeal so that people are willing to go out and spend the time and their resources and provide their talents because they believe in someone. ... The reason those people got involved was because they believed in Barack Obama. It was a relationship between them and our candidate."
Plouffe is right. He and Axelrod and Messina could have created the most awesome campaign machinery in the world, and it would have failed had the candidate not been able to forge an emotional connection with enough voters to win. Obama could do that, especially with blacks and Latinos and young people, but also with a significant portion of white voters.