In both 2010 and 2012, more conservative candidates emerged from primaries. Though that has resulted in some successes for Republicans, such as in the case of Rubio in 2010 and Nebraska Sen.-elect Deb Fischer on Nov. 6, it has also led to some spectacular failures in the general election.
In 2010, the NRSC tried to pick its candidates in the primaries only to have a tea party electorate reject them in favor of candidates that were perceived as more conservative. In 2012, the NRSC largely sat on the sidelines in the primaries, leading to primary winners such as Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who went on to lose seats that were otherwise considered prime GOP pickup opportunities. This year, every Senate Democratic incumbent kept his or her seat, and Democrats were able to put Republicans on defense in states such as Arizona, where the GOP has traditionally held an advantage.
In September, Roll Call first reported that Cornyn thinks the Senate should look into reform next Congress.
“I think it would be a worthwhile exercise ... next year, to look at our campaign finance system in light of the Supreme Court decisions and say, ‘What makes sense in terms of accountability and with concerns to transparency?’ That I think would be important,” Cornyn told Roll Call then.
And there has always been a small group of Republicans who opposed the Citizens United case and unlimited spending, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The namesake of the 2002 law told Roll Call in September that “the flood of money, because of the Citizens United case, has destroyed the whole political system as we know it. So I think we have got to go back.”
The 2008 GOP presidential nominee added that there would need to be “scandals and then there will be reform.”
It’s unclear whether failure to recapture the Senate repeatedly will be scandal enough for Republican leaders to consider amending what was once a sacrosanct position.
Moreover, not all Republicans see a correlation between outside groups and un-electable conservative candidates.
“I don’t think outside group spending is the reason why Republicans have nominated a few duds in recent years — and it’s really been a few duds. They’ve been high-profile duds,” said Brad Smith, chairman and co-founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, which supports a rollback of campaign finance restrictions. “I don’t think that’s been a problem with outside groups, that’s a problem with a primary electorate.”
He added, “Republicans would be foolish to think about how they should be regulating these [outside groups] because they rely more on paid media than Democrats do.”
Democrats could consider reintroducing campaign finance reform legislation next Congress. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, one of the co-sponsors of the original DISCLOSE Act, said it was on a list of initiatives leadership would like to take up.
And the party sees Republicans electoral failings this cycle as an interesting starting point for renewing their push.