Autopsy of an Autopsy: Do Politicians Learn from Their Mistakes?

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on March 23, 2013

800px-Anatomische_les_van_dr._Willem_Röellby Charles Gruenwald
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

Perhaps the term “autopsy report” is the reason why the Republican National Committee’s analysis of the November, 2012 election is hard to take seriously. Or, it could be the GOP’s somewhat-collective belief that the election was a landslide defeat. Or, maybe it is the belief by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus that all of the answers to Republicans’ woes are found in market research. Maybe “all of the above, plus a few more” is correct.

First of all, using a term such as “autopsy report” is an example of semantics. Semantics – especially in the worlds of marketing and politics, is little more than the equivalent of a perpetual quest to polish a turd. For example, advertising people within the bowling industry prefer that bowling alleys be referred to as “bowling centers,” since the word “alley” may cause potential customers to associate bowling with large cities, gangs, and violence. Using this logic, the word “center” could also cause those same potential customers to associate bowling with bland, uninteresting strip malls. Eventually, “bowling center” could lose favor to “bowling hall,” or some other gimmick that appeals to advertising group-think. Regardless of the current name – whatever it may be, bowling alleys will still continue to be bowling alleys.

As for the name “autopsy report,” it appears as though the heads of the Republican Party have attempted to make the analysis of a lost election bigger than it is. Yes, losing in November was difficult, since the Democrats, according to Republican polling data, were vulnerable. However, the Republicans were lazy; many believed that just “not being the other candidate” was enough to win. Leading up to the Presidential election, there was a widespread belief that anybody could defeat Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, it seems as though that is what the Republicans gave us – “just anybody.”

As for the lost Congressional seats, some of those losses may have been unavoidable.

In Illinois, Democrat-controlled redistricting following the 2010 census made Republican wins much more difficult to achieve. In fact, the new districts allowed Democrats to pick up four U.S. House seats. In Illinois, with its powerful state Democrat Party, it appears as though the state Republican Party has just about given up any hopes of holding any power in Springfield, so it has relegated itself to being subservient to the Democrats. If today’s Illinois politics continues to evolve into tomorrow’s national politics, then, it would be safe to assume that the national Republican Party is positioning itself as a subservient subsidiary to the national Democrat party.

Describing the details of the loss of an election as an “autopsy report” may not cause voters to think that the Republicans want to learn from their mistakes; it could send a message that the GOP expired on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

If the losses were such a landslide, why didn’t the leaders of the Republican Party take responsibility sooner?

Following the losses of House seats to the Democrats in 1998, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich accepted responsibility for the loss by resigning as Speaker. Did John Boehner offer to do the same?

This GOP-sponsored analysis of the 2012 election is much like almost any committee investigation in Washington: when it is time to place blame, it is generically spread across “everyone” involved. Yet, somehow, nobody is ever responsible.

And then, there is market research; the stuff that is based on an all-things-to-all-people mentality. If misused, such as avoiding specific, sincere responses, or by using questions that lead to a predetermined conclusion, the results of that market research will lead to such mediocre products as radio stations with tiny playlists, and automobiles with benign looks and a lobotomized personality. The end result of an all-things-to-all-people approach is usually a compromised product that nobody really wants.

According to Chairman Priebus, he learned from market research that the GOP is viewed as being too exclusive, having an inability to present a message, and presenting ineffective campaigns – among other issues.

If the logic behind running the Republican Party were put on a flow chart, there would probably be many random forks, loops, and dead-ends.

First of all, the Republican Party takes its voters for granted. The long-standing mentality is that Republicans will vote against Democrats – even if the Republican candidate has more in common with the Democrat who he or she is running against. However, the 2008 and 2012 elections should have been warnings that a voter who stays home on Election Day is really someone who is voting for none of the above.

One of my favorite pastimes is spending a day at the track, and betting a few dollars on a horse or two. As I was gaining interest in horse racing in the late eighties, I was gaining interest in a sport that was starting to decline; many track owners assumed that despite cheap horses, overpriced concessions, and a dirty, unmaintained grandstand, there would be horse racing fans. There was one big problem with this logic: the regulars started to die off, and the practice of exploiting the most faithful fans discouraged many new ones from going to the track.

Just like politics, there were exceptions to the rule. When Arlington Park was rebuilt for the 1989 summer racing season, there was an attempt to attract new fans with a new, clean grandstand, better food, and better horses. Unfortunately, the racing industry – just like politicians, does not handle change very well.

Establishment politicians, such as John McCain have a few in-common traits with the older track operators: they have a difficult time accepting change – they even fight it if their power base is threatened, and they exploit loyal voters/customers. New politicians, such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have more in-common with the new personalities in horse racing: people who believe that taking risks based on personal convictions will be accepted by new fans/voters.

For some reason, the leaders of the Republican Party chose to not learn anything from the recall attempt that Governor Walker faced in 2011. The lesson that should have been learned is that voters will support a candidate or politician who is willing to defend his or her values and political beliefs despite bitter — and sometimes violent — opposition. Mitt Romney may have been perceived as an out-of-touch rich snob by Democrat voters, but independent voters could have viewed Romney as a career politician who tried to be all things to all people.

As the leaders of the Republican Party sort through all of the data that was gathered in their “autopsy report,” maybe they should review a mistake that the higher-ups at GM made as it was starting its now-defunct Saturn division; when discussing how Saturn dealers would operate, some GM officials bragged about the amount of market research that went into how customers should be treated. Excuse me, but wouldn’t those officials have learned more if they actually visited dealers themselves – and perhaps bought cars – just like real customers do?

The parallel between those GM officials, and the leaders of the GOP, is that they are so out of touch with the people whom they claim to serve and represent they have to hire other people to tell them what it is like to be on the receiving end of their policies/products. Sometimes – well, almost always, the use of semantics and market research is no substitute for real-world experiences; and the problems caused by a lack of those experiences really doesn’t need to be explained in an autopsy report.

Image; Title: Anatomy lesson of Dr Willem Röell; Cornelis Troost (1697–1750); Current location: Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum; public domain

get-attachment  3Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for

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Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for