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Bad candidates or lack of money? The GOP wonders why it lost in 2022

DANA POINT, Calif. — The Republican Party is set to release its review of why leading candidates were let down in the midterm elections from last fall to early spring.

But while members of the Republican National Committee agree on the need to wrap up the inquiry before the presidential primary races ahead, disagreement remains on a key part of the review – the focus on the “quality of the candidate”, which is considered an understatement. for former President Donald Trump’s failed endorsements in major swing state races.

The split unfolded during the panel meeting at this week’s RNC rally, with Arizona committee member Tyler Bowyer telling Mississippi committee member Henry Barbour behind closed doors that the issue in 2022 is not It wasn’t the quality of the nominees but a lack of resources offered to a series of high-profile nominees who lost last fall. The two men, who are part of the RNC team responsible for reviewing the mid-terms, confirmed the discussion to NBC News.

“We had a little debate between me and Henry Barbour about the quality of the candidates versus the support of the candidates,” said Bowyer, who is also chief operating officer of Turning Point Action, a conservative group. “And I’m just taking the position that we can never tell Donald Trump what to do. President Trump can support whoever he wants.

“It’s not our ability to influence that,” he continued. “The only thing we can influence are the things we control. And what we control here at the RNC is money coming in and money going out. And this is the predominant force.

Barbour — who Ronna McDaniel, the newly re-elected RNC chairwoman, tapped to co-chair the review alongside California committee member Harmeet Dhillon, Kansas committee member Kim Borchers and Delaware GOP chairwoman Jane Brady — said he and Bowyer “had a discussion along those lines.”

Earlier this month, Barbour said in an interview with NBC News that the committee would look closely at the role Trump played in the party’s disappointing 2022 midterm results as part of its audit, which it said he would also explore a myriad of other topics, such as participation. and ticket sharing.

“What we intend to do is get into the weeds, to have data to confirm or certainly to give weight to the assessments that we make,” he said at the time. . “It has to be a straightforward effort. We cannot ignore things. Or it’s just not worth doing.

Their debate echoes a broader schism within the party over responsibility for disappointing midterm results in which underlying fundamentals favored Republicans. Ultimately, the GOP won a few races statewide and entered 2023 with only a slim majority in the House.

Many party members cited the quality of candidates as the main reason for poor performance. Others pointed to the party and outside campaign groups investing relatively little in frontline candidates like Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — supporters hardliners who closely aligned themselves with Trump’s false election claims.

Trump himself has blamed the party’s midterm shortcomings on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as radical anti-abortion activists who have called for no exceptions to new bans in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade – a move made possible by his appointment of three High Court judges.

Bill Palatucci, an RNC committee member from New Jersey who has criticized Trump and is taking part in the review, said that while the effort is “a monumental task” that has only just begun, he doesn’t think it is. too hard to understand what happened last fall.

“I hope we don’t go so far that we miss the forest for the trees,” he said. “I think it’s pretty simple. We had a bunch of terrible candidates. I don’t know what more to really say than that.

Palatucci, who backed Dhillon in the chair race, praised Barbour and said the panel discussed “all aspects” of the last election, including fundraising, candidates, messages and tactics.

“I said on our conference call with the RNC in November that I would give Ronna an A for tactics,” he said. “Where we have a failing grade is the message and the messengers. Donald Trump was a terrible messenger.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Dhillon said his biggest concern was that the review could take until the summer to be released, adding that such a timeline was “ridiculous considering we have an active primary season. coming”.

“And so I urged the committee, ‘We need to do this quickly,'” she said, adding that the deadline had moved from July to March for a final report. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of opinions on what went wrong in the 2022 election cycle. And I think I could have done it in two weeks. Frankly, I already had a litany of reasons.

In a text message to NBC News, Barbour said the timeline is still “a work in progress,” adding that March was “the earliest likely date, but not out of the question.

“Could slip into April, but we generally agree that faster is better,” he said. “But I must be right.”

Barbour also co-authored the audit following Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential defeat, which has been dubbed the “Growth and Opportunity Project.” Among other findings, he called on Republicans to soften their stance on immigration and adopt a more inclusive stance. The suggestions were largely dismissed during Trump’s first bid for the White House.

In his group on Thursday, Dhillon said the group is focusing on about a dozen areas of inquiry with about 50 members participating in the process.

“We don’t focus or exclude any particular thing,” she said. “The subjects were not dictated to us.

She dismissed concerns about whether the panel would rule out any role Trump may have played in the mid-term shortcomings.

“I don’t think that’s a legitimate concern,” she said. “Henry Barbour is one of the co-chairs. He is not a known Trump supporter. And so I think we will have a fairly objective report. … When people talk about candidate quality, some see it as a code word for Trump’s endorsement. So people say that.

But as for his own opinion, Dhillon, who lost to McDaniel in Friday’s chair contest, said it was too “simplistic” to attribute the midterm losses to Trump. But she said the RNC had a role to play in ensuring the party fields good candidates – and appeared to lash out at Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz, high-profile candidates who have faced charges of carpet. Both received Trump’s endorsement and lost, costing Republican Senate seats in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

“I’m talking about moral and practical leadership and persuasion,” she said. “And so that sometimes means going to a famous, wealthy person and saying, ‘If you don’t live in the state, maybe you shouldn’t run for the Senate in this state. “”

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