The Republican Path Forward
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Our next guest had a better Tuesday than many Republicans. While their party was losing the House and numerous governors' chairs and several state legislatures, Republicans gained ground in the Senate. Steven Law of the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, came by before the election and predicted that things would turn out roughly the way that they did.
Mr. Law, congratulations to your side.
STEVEN LAW: Well, thank you very much.
INSKEEP: Although, you were just saying before we went on the air you actually ended up a little better than you expected in the Senate. You thought you wouldn't gain ground the way that you did. What changed?
LAW: Yeah, that's right. We thought we'd hold the majority, but just narrowly. And instead, we picked up two to three seats in a first presidential midterm where we lost the House.
And what changed at the very end was we made a conscious decision to hold our resources to post-Labor Day. We figured that our candidates were going to be outspent, and they were. And I think we were able to match those resources and have a pretty level playing field in each of our states, so that enabled us to eke out some wins in places that were hard, like Indiana, Missouri, Florida and, we'll see, but hopefully Arizona.
INSKEEP: So part of what you think made the difference - you'd like to think made the difference was the money you spent. What about on the side of the electorate - the people? What does it say about the country that Republicans did better in these selected places, even while doing poorly across the country?
LAW: Well, sure. I mean, I think the electorate's fairly polarized. And the states where we were competitive were states that, more or less, leaned Republican, where the president was popular. And to his credit, his barnstorming helped a number of these Senate races in these strongly red-oriented states.
Compare that to the House, where the battlegrounds were suburban districts - more affluent, more educated. These were districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. In many of these places, you saw Republican retirements that then created open-seat opportunities for the Democrats to pick up.
INSKEEP: You know, I think often of a remark by Mitch McConnell on this program a couple of years ago. He said the Republican Party is at an all-time high. And people guffawed because they said, your party is in chaos. It's a nightmare. You've got Donald Trump. Well, of course, the party was at a very high point in terms of offices held, and then they got the presidency. But is it fair to say Republicans are now coming down from that all-time high?
LAW: Well, I think, you know, the first presidential midterm is usually a correction point. It's like a market correction. But if you grade this midterm on the curve of a lot of presidential midterms, it really wasn't that bad. I mean, obviously, you don't want to win - lose control of the House. But we only lost - you know, it'll end up being a little over 30 seats.
You compare that to President Obama's first midterm - my organization was actually started to engage in President Obama's first midterm election. They lost 63 seats in the House and six senators. We gained two to three seats in the Senate.
So you - compare that on balance, I think it's a market correction. I think there are lessons to be learned from it for our party that I think we would do well to heed. But I think we're still in pretty good shape.
INSKEEP: The Republican Party was perceived as becoming more Trump-y, if that is the word. Trump-like or Trump-favoring candidates did very well. Those who distanced themselves from the president did not do so well, were defeated by Democrats. Is that good for the long-term prospects of the party?
LAW: Well, I think, you know, whenever you are in control of the White House, that tends to have a unifying impact on the party. And everybody does, more or less, align themselves behind the president. That was true of President Obama, true, also, of President Clinton. In some cases, that can be a problem if you're running in a state where the president's not popular. But overall...
INSKEEP: But as the country changes, is that good for the party to be going to that older, whiter kind of direction?
LAW: Well, look; both parties are undergoing a huge cultural realignment right now. You know, we're doing much better among rural voters, older white voters. Democrats are doing better in suburban, affluent districts. That's just something that we're seeing all across the board.
INSKEEP: Steven Law, thanks for coming by. Really appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.