11/09/2012 07:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- Advice for the Republican Party

Well, that was certainly a fun week, wasn't it?

Let's see... more Democrats in the House, more Democrats in the Senate, President Obama in the White House for a second term, Joe "You Lie!" Wilson was defeated, Allen West has likely been defeated, and Alan Grayson fought his way back to a House seat again. Oh, and I called every single state correctly on the day before the presidential election, too. So, all in all, a pretty good week!

But rather than getting all schadenfreude-y toward Republicans (although it is amusing to see the finger-pointing and recriminations on their side this week, I do have to admit), I'm going to be magnanimous in today's column. Instead of offering up advice to Democrats, this week I am going to offer up some excellent political advice to Republicans. Someone please forward this to Republican Party Headquarters, with the subject line: "How to save the Republican Party."

No, seriously. All kidding aside. I've got the winning issue that -- if Republicans were to jump on it right at this very moment, and get out in front and show some leadership -- could revitalize their entire party, save them from the brink of demographic extinction, and enormously boost their chances to win future national elections.

So, you ready, Republican Party? Are you sitting down? Here's what you have to do to avoid going the way of the Whigs. It's pretty easy -- it would fit on a Twitter message: "Begin championing Puerto Rican statehood."

This may seem counterintuitive, but it's not. It's actually heartfelt advice that could do wonders for changing the Republican Party's image, especially among the ever-growing Latino demographic (you know, the one that just handed Mitt Romney his rear end on a platter...).

Little-noticed in the United States, Puerto Rico voted this week to start moving toward statehood. This is a very big deal, although it is by no means assured. But it is historic -- Puerto Ricans have voted a number of times in the past on the statehood question, but they have never managed to get a majority of people to vote for it. This time, they did.

But the United States Congress will be involved in this process. Which means it could be a big partisan fight. Or maybe not. If Republicans were smart, they would jump on this issue and be seen as the ones pushing for Puerto Rico to be accepted as the 51st state.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. In the first place, it would have nothing to do with immigration. Puerto Ricans are Americans already -- they are citizens by birth, and have been for a long time. Therefore, there is no immigration question at all. This avoids the problems of the hardliners in the Republican Party who always scream "Amnesty!" at the drop of an immigration reform proposal. Once again: this has nothing to do with immigration in any way shape or form because Puerto Ricans are already American citizens. That's key to getting Republican politicians to go along with the scheme.

Republicans might balk at letting Puerto Rico into the Union. This would be a gigantic mistake. Republicans might figure that one more state with a bunch of people who would likely vote Democratic would work against them -- they'd see it as cutting their own throat, in other words. Again, this is shortsightedness. Because while Republicans try to brainstorm how they're ever going to get Latinos to vote for them, how about the following idea: how about doing something for Latinos, as a party? Be seen on their side for once. Maybe by doing so, Republicans could shift the entire trend of Latino voting patterns, for a generation. It certainly is worth a try, because not much of anything else is going to help them, at this point. If Republicans were -- loudly and publicly -- championing Puerto Rican statehood every chance they got, who's to say that they couldn't turn the new state into a Republican Latino stronghold? Right now -- other than Miami's Cubans -- that phrase is almost an oxymoron. But it doesn't have to always be that way, and the only way to change it is to take the Latino side of an issue, for once.

Republicans could be seen as leading the charge on statehood, garner a whole bunch of goodwill among Latino voters everywhere, and all the while not have to even address immigration. The more I think about it, the more perfect it sounds for the GOP.

Rather than doing an endzone dance and spiking the Democratic football this week (well, not too much), I instead felt so sorry for the Republican Party's future prospects that I decided to offer up this idea as a way for their party to come back in from the demographic wilderness. So, like I said, please forward this column right on to Republican Party Headquarters. If they're open to new ideas, I think this one would be a dandy one for them. But they'll have to move fast, because Democrats are going to start talking about it, once they realize it's happening. Once Democrats take the lead on Puerto Rico, the opportunity will be lost. There's a short window of time before that happens, one the Republicans ought to jump on with both feet. If they're smart, that is.


This is a tough one this week, because we have so many impressive Democrats to choose from. Not only President Barack Obama, but many, many other Democrats either won re-election or got elected for the first time this year. Plus, there were all the behind-the-scenes folks who made such victories happen. Which, as we said, makes the choice tough.

The obvious selection is President Barack Obama, not only the first African-American president ever, but now also the first one to serve a full two terms. But Obama's won the last two MIDOTW awards here, so we're going to put his accomplishment aside, hard as that is to do this week. There were other obvious selections as well, such as Senators-elect Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin -- the first open lesbian senator ever -- and Elizabeth Warren, champion of the average consumer, and icon of the Left.

Less well-known but also impressive were people such as Colleen Lachowicz, who won a state senate race in Maine, even though her opponent tried to score political points against her by using the fact that she was an active participant (a "level 85 orc") in the MMORPG online gaming universe that is "World Of Warcraft." When even the level 85 orcs are getting elected, it certainly was some sort of wave year, that's for sure.

But while all of them were indeed impressive (as well as all the other Democrats we don't have room to name), we feel that one man and one man alone deserves the lion's share of credit for Barack Obama's victory, even if it was motivated by familial spite. James Earl Carter IV, grandson of "Jimmy" (our 39th president), apparently got rather annoyed at Mitt Romney's use of his grandpop as a "worst-case ever" example in comparison to Barack Obama's first term, and on his own initiative hunted down the full video of a speech Mitt Romney gave (privately, or so he thought) to a group of his well-heeled donors. In it, Mitt said several off-the-cuff things, but none was more damaging than his rant against the "47 percent" of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. These leeches, Romney said, could never be convinced to vote for him or any other Republican, since they were quite obviously sucking at the government teat and refused to take responsibility for their sorry and pathetic lives.

This, more than anything else, guaranteed the re-election of President Obama. Which is why we're giving Carter (whom we shall now refer to as "Jimmy Four," just because we like the sound of it) this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Years from now, when the 2012 election is studied by historians, many subjects and events will emerge as pivotal points (we're going to cover the biggest of these in the Talking Points, never fear). But the single-most important turning point was when the "47 percent" recording was released.

Three far-reaching campaigns set this crucial moment up. The first was last year's "Occupy" movement -- which made headlines across the world about the "99 percent" versus the "one percent." Inequality, corporate malfeasance, big banks, and Wall Street in general were all painted as pariahs, quite effectively. The "Occupy" movement itself collapsed of its own self-important weight soon afterwards, but they had scored a valuable point in the American consciousness. This wasn't even the earliest of the setup machinations, however.

Two years ago, Barack Obama faced his first lame-duck Congress. The Tea Party was triumphant and about to be sworn into office. The health care bill was nearing a crucial point, and Joe Lieberman was sticking up the works (side note: the most wonderful thing about the incoming 113th Congress is that Joe Lieberman will not be in it -- this is even more wonderful than Joe Wilson and Allen West being shown the door, we might add). "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was heading for a showdown. In the midst of all of this horse-trading in the waning days of Congress, the Bush tax cuts were set to expire. Obama cut a deal. He got "DADT" repealed, he (and Harry Reid) got Lieberman on board by finally jettisoning the "public option," but Obama also negotiated an extension of the Bush tax cuts. For two years.

At the time, I thought this was crazy, and said so. Obama could have picked any extension time period he wanted. He could have picked one year -- so he could have the fight again next time around. He could have picked three years -- comfortably beyond the 2012 election, where he didn't even need to have the fight again. But instead, he consciously picked two years -- which put the issue right at the center of the 2012 election.

Although the Left excoriated him at the time for "selling out" on the Bush tax cuts, Obama actually was the bravest Democrat I've seen since the 1980s. He picked a fight on raising taxes, which he knew would become one of the centerpieces of the upcoming election, and he actually staked out a very traditional Democratic position -- raising taxes on the very wealthy -- which no Democrat had truly fought for for a period of roughly 30 years. That takes guts, folks, and that was part of what set up the whole income inequality argument -- long before Mitt Romney was named the nominee of the Republican Party for 2012.

The third thing which set up the "47 percent" tape was pre-planned by the Obama folks after they were certain that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee. They took advantage of one basic political fact -- Romney had to win a primary and then the general election, but Obama was free to focus solely on Romney the whole time.

This led to a turnabout of what usually happens in the dog days of summer. Democrats were the ones on the attack, and Republicans were the ones completely absent from the stage. This happened to John Kerry, when he was "Swiftboated" and did not respond. This happened to Obama in his first campaign, when the whole "Reverend Wright" controversy erupted. It happened to President Obama in the Tea Party Summer, with the rage at the town halls. Each time, mostly in August, Democrats were largely not to be seen, while Republicans ranted and raved enough to cement their own position in the public's mind.

This time around, it was Romney who was absent during the hot summer months. Now, to be fair, this is because he had largely spent all his primary money and couldn't spend his general election money before the conventions -- which Obama, remember, did not have to worry about. So Team Obama spent roughly two month painting a picture of Mitt Romney as the unholy offspring of Thurston Howell III (from Gilligan's Island) and Scrooge McDuck. The Bain Capital ads were relentless and they absolutely defined Romney for the voters in several very blue-collar states. Romney was a plutocrat, plain and simple. Not only didn't he care about "people like you," he was completely clueless about the average person's life.

Thus the stage was set. The "Occupy" thing had demonized greed, in general. Obama himself had set up the argument about taxing the uber-wealthy at the end of 2012 before the race was even run. And then the Obama team hit Romney hard on the whole Bain Capital thing starting in early summer and not letting up for a minute.

Enter Jimmy Four. Back in FTP [227], when we gave him his first MIDOTW award, we had this to say:

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than James Earl Carter IV, grandson of ex-president Jimmy. Carter was the one who found the Romney video online, and who ferreted out the person who posted it anonymously -- and then promptly put it in the hands of Mother Jones, and the rest is history. Carter doesn't approve of Romney's characterization of his grandfather's time in office, apparently.

For performing this public service, James Earl Carter IV is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. His action certainly set the tone of the campaign, all week long. We even have an amusing photo of the two Carters to share, which had been filed under "Ten Epic Yawns." All I can say is, nobody in the Romney camp is yawning now.

The impact of the "47 percent" video was, in my opinion, the body blow that Romney never recovered from. A good debate performance wasn't enough to erase (or "Etch A Sketch," if you will) the sneering contempt Romney showed in this video for half of America's citizenry. Romney elitism dovetailed perfectly with the picture the Obama camp had been painting of him all along. "Gaffes" (as Washington calls it when a politician is caught telling the public what he really thinks) only really work when they feed into a narrative that already exists in the public's mind. Thanks to the Occupy folks and a whole lot of very smartly invested money by the Obama team, the 47 percent comments were the final nail in Romney's electoral coffin.

For this reason -- although there certainly were many other deserving people to choose from this week, including the president himself -- we are going to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week (really "...Of The Election") award to none other than Jimmy's grandson James Earl Carter IV. Revenge is sweet.

[James Earl Carter IV is a private citizen, and it is our policy not to provide contact information for people not officially in politics.]


Can't think of a one. It was that good a week. Anybody disappointed in any Democrats out there? Let me know, although all I saw this week was pretty impressive, I have to admit.


Volume 234 (11/9/12)

Today's talking points are going to be a special post-election edition, and (once again) they will be dedicated to helping out the Republican Party, since they quite obviously need so much help with their party right now.

The 2012 election was such a crushing defeat for Republicans that the word "liberal" is even going through a renaissance, or at least a rehabilitation among the public. Long demonized by the right, people (I'm one of them) are now openly using the word with pride.

Before I get to the serious stuff, though, I learned one thing about Romney post-election that I really think would have helped him beforehand (not much, maybe, but still...). Mitt Romney's Secret Service name was "Javelin." That's pretty cool, since it refers to a muscle car from his dad's old company: the AMC Javelin. And Javelins were indeed cool cars. One more way to get in touch with the NASCAR types (instead of the NASCAR owners) that was blown by Mitt on the campaign trail, I guess.

Which brings us to the talking points -- these are the seven soundbites that tanked Mitt Romney. These are the "bad examples" that the Republican Party would do well in the future to avoid, to put it another way.

There are other things Republicans should avoid from the campaign as well. Like Karl Rove. Back in the 2008 election, I actually had a lot of respect for Rove, because as "numbers man" for Fox News, he was actually admitting -- something like three weeks before the election -- that Obama was going to win big. On Fox News. You could trust Karl's numbers, because he was obviously not showing any bias.

This year? Well, let's just say we've lost all respect for his numbers, and leave it at that. But we're supposed to be giving advice to Republicans, so here goes: maybe rethink that whole "give Karl $400 million" thing next time, guys, okay?

Second piece of advice: pay attention to the ground game. This is how you got beat. The Obama team put together quite possibly the best "get out the vote" operation this country's ever seen. It worked. All that money Obama spent, early, on this operation paid off enormously. Fair warning.

Here's a piece of advice: Don't go to sleep in the summer. Here, let me translate it into Republicanese, to make it easier: "You know who goes on vacation all August long? The French -- that's who. Are you French? Or are you an exceptional American? Get to work in August!"

Heh. Okay, that was a little football-spikey, sorry. But you get my point, hopefully.

This last one may be hard for Republicans to admit, but Nate Silver was right. Math works. Deal with it. You can either believe the math and do something about it, or you can live in denial... and lose elections. Your choice. Just remember next time around: demonizing Nate Silver is beyond ridiculous. You should listen to Nate Silver, not say snarky things about him.

Enough of the preliminaries, though. While there were a plethora of things from Romney's 2012 campaign to choose from -- too many to list here -- that added up to his defeat, we've chosen the top seven, in our humble opinion. Not making the list were notables such as: "don't tie your dog to the roof of your car," and "don't piss off Chris Christie in any way, shape, or form," and "release your damn taxes," and "don't take photographs of yourself with money literally coming out of the seams of your clothes," and the ever-crucial "you have to do Dave Letterman's show at least once, or he will eviscerate you for months on end." We haven't even included the "47 percent," since we've already dissected that matter in detail.

These were all damning to Romney, but not as damning as the following items.



The first and arguably largest thing that tanked Romney's chances for election was to attempt to get "to the right" of Rick Perry on immigration, during the primary season. During a debate, when asked about the 10-12 million people here illegally, Mitt Romney responded with what must have seemed to him to be a reasonable answer: make life so miserable here for these people that they would just give up and move back to their country of origin. But it wasn't the answer so much as the term he used: "self-deportation." This was deeply insulting to a whole lot of Latinos. Who voted for Barack Obama to the tune of 71 percent. If this trend continues, Republicans are never going to hold the White House again. For decades, at the very least.


   Let Detroit Go Bankrupt

To be fair, Mitt Romney didn't write this headline. Sarah Palin didn't say "I can see Russia from my house," and Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet, either -- but that's not what people remember. Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed piece during the height of the Detroit crisis, which must have seemed reasonable to him at the time. The only problem was, it wouldn't have worked -- it would have resulted in two of the "Big Three" automakers being dismantled and sold off, piecemeal. This would have destroyed the entire auto industry, because it would also have taken down the chain of supply for the automakers (even Ford, who didn't need a bailout). People in Michigan and Ohio remembered what Romney said, and he was never able to convince them otherwise.

Especially not after Clint Eastwood cut an ad for the Super Bowl. When I saw that ad, my immediate response was to wonder where the "I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message" was, at the end. Even if Clint had been brilliantly funny and scintillating at the Republican National Convention (instead of doddering and foolish), he never would have undone the damage this ad did to Romney in general. Barack Obama made a bet on the American worker. Mitt Romney disagreed with it. Obama was right, and Mitt was wrong. This handed Obama Ohio and Michigan, and their 34 collective electoral votes.


   Just borrow some money from your parents

This remark was caught at a campaign event, and once again cut to the core argument against Mitt Romney -- that he was dangerously out of touch with average people's lives. When asked how a struggling college graduate was supposed to transform himself or herself into an entrepreneur and start a business, Mitt's answer reeked of the elitism he's known his entire life -- maybe you should just borrow the money from your parents to get things started. Well, um, Mitt... not everyone has rich parents to make this sort of thing possible, you know? What's that? You don't know? Well, see, that's a big problem right there.


   I'll bet you $10,000

This remark was also painfully awkward for Mitt. One pundit summed it up as "exactly the wrong amount to bet," by the reasoning that (1.) if it was a real bet, the amount was way too high -- if Romney were seriously betting, he should have said "a hundred bucks" -- and/or (2.) if he was trying to be hyperbolic, he should have said something like "I'll bet you a million bazillion dollars." By hitting the not-so-sweet spot between these two, nobody had the slightest idea whether he was seriously offering Rick Perry a bet or just trying to make a point. Once again, Mitt himself feeds the theme of out-of-touch elitism, on national television to boot.



The remaining three of these were things Mitt didn't actually say, himself. But they hurt him just the same. The first was, again, during Republican primary season, when Tim Pawlenty accused Mitt of championing what he brilliantly called "Obamneycare." Just on wordsmithing alone, that was a clever quip. Cram Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Obamacare all into one word. Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health care reform was exactly the same as Obamacare. Which made it all but impossible for Romney to make it an enormous issue in the general election campaign. Another Republican candidate could have used it as a blunt object for months, but this route was denied to Romney. This was a fundamental problem that he never managed to overcome.


   Etch A Sketching

This comment came from a top Romney operative, who suggested that Mitt was going to be an "Etch A Sketch" after he sewed up the Republican primary. In other words, just turn him over and shake him and you'd be left with a blank slate that you could draw anything you wanted on. This terrified the Republican base so much that Mitt had to reassure them for months that he wasn't going to go all soft and squishy on them. When he finally did so, they forgave him immediately because it was during the absolute high point of his campaign -- the first debate. But this tack back to the center should really have happened about a month earlier, and Mitt's delay in moving to the center hurt him enormously. By the time it happened, most people had already made up their minds about him, and what he stood for. Mitt wasn't hurt so much by the Etch A Sketch comment as he was by how it tied his hands for so long.


   God's will includes rapists' babies

Republicans were hurt -- badly -- by their antediluvian attitudes toward rape, abortion, and compassion for women faced with tough choices. And please take note, Republican Party, this was due to the honest position of the Republican Party, not some sort of "gaffe" or "inartful language." Todd Akin didn't just "say something stupid," he really believed that women couldn't get pregnant from rape. Many Republicans also believe some version of this idiocy. Richard Mourdock didn't just have a "slip of the tongue" -- he really does believe that God's will works in mysterious ways, and sometimes that includes making babies from violent rape. Because these weren't some sort of "whoops, I said that wrong" moments, they were impossible to apologize for. Because to truly apologize, you would have had to have said "one of my core beliefs is absolutely wrong, and I have now seen the light of day on the matter" -- which neither man did.

Akin's comment came fairly early, and the Republican Party decided he wasn't viable enough of a candidate for them to back for Senate -- while also deciding that he was still just fine in the House of Representatives (no Republican I am aware of called for him to resign, in other words). Later, they pumped money into his campaign anyway. But Mourdock's comments were a lot closer to the election, and Mitt Romney blew it because an ad he had cut for Mourdock aired just after the comment. Romney refused to take the ad down, or entirely disavow Mourdock.

Guess what, Republican Party -- women noticed. And they remembered. And they took it into consideration in the voting booth. The War On Women may not be over, but women won this battle in triumphant fashion. Let that be a lesson for next time.


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