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Looking back on his role as National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he believes Republicans will learn from this election cycle’s defeats to improve the way the party works with candidates and campaigns.
“If the question is, can we do better, based on what we learned the last four years, I think we can,” he said. “That’s going to be a combination of tactics, recruitment and policy. I think the Republican Party as a whole has learned some valuable lessons, many of which we are now digesting. But that shouldn’t be a short process. That should be a fully considered and deliberative process.”
As NRSC chairman, Cornyn lost a net of two seats in 2012 — failing to take advantage of a Senate election environment that appeared to favor the GOP. In fact, every Senate Democrat who stood for re-election won, and Republicans lost GOP-held seats in Maine, Indiana and Massachusetts. The only Republican pickup came in Nebraska.
Cornyn supporters have stressed that on his watch Republicans have gained a net of five seats, including two women and two Latino senators. The GOP conference voted Wednesday to elevate him to minority whip, the number two spot in Senate Republican leadership.
The culprit behind many of the NRSC’s problems is divisive primaries that selected lackluster nominees. In 2012, for example, GOP nominees in Indiana and Missouri faltered, paving the way for Democratic wins in those conservative states.
After all this, Cornyn says he’s “skeptical” there’s a better way for the national party to play in primaries in a more productive manner.
“I think there’s also recognition that it’s important to have principled conservatives, who not only have the philosophy, but also have the qualities as a candidate to run a very good and successful election in the general election,” Cornyn said. “I’ve learned a few things, and hopefully everyone on our side has learned a few things.”
But the Texas Republican cautioned that the answer to the GOP’s campaign woes is more complicated than just the primary. His Senate nominees, such as former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, lost because Democrats trounced the party in turnout. Cornyn said Thompson told him recently that when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost his state by 7 points, “I didn’t have a chance.”
Cornyn’s successor, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., will have his hands full in 2014. Democrats must defend 20 seats, many of which are in traditionally conservative territory, while Republicans need to hold on to 13 seats. On Wednesday morning, Moran tapped two of his colleagues, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas to serve as his deputies at the committee.