Political consultant Heath Garrett moderated a discussion between Towery and Mercer University economics professor Roger Tutterow before a group that lunched at the Cobb Galleria.
“The ghost of Ronald Reagan is finally going to have to leave the Republican Party,” Towery said. “We can’t keep clinging to the hope that we’re going to have a Reaganesque morning in America.”
Towery compared it to the Democrats holding on to FDR until it resulted in their nominee being Walter Mondale.
“We’ve got to see on the Republican side a reinvention of the wheel,” Towery said. “It has to be more inclusive of Hispanic Latinos. It has to drop some of the social issues.”
Towery said when he saw Florida exit polls coming from the Cuban American community, long a mainstay of the Republican Party, that had Romney only five or six points ahead, it is a cause for alarm.
“That’s significant trouble because that’s your most loyal Republican base,” Towery said. “If the party doesn’t deal with that, and you can’t do it by saying, ‘seal the borders and throw everybody out,’ because if you say that you’re saying to them, ‘you don’t belong here in the United States of America.’ So I think there’s going to have to be a reinvention of how do you deal with these issues without simply trying to appeal to the red meat of one core part of the Republican Party.”
Towery said a huge mistake Romney made was failing to choose U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) as his running mate for vice president. Rubio would have made it easier to win Florida, freeing up the money and time spent in Florida to focus on Virginia, Ohio and Colorado.
The panel also took questions from the audience, among them Clark Hungerford of Vinings Bank, who asked about the impact of the tea party movement.
Garrett, who served as U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s former chief of staff, said there are four political issues Republicans need to tackle: the generational gap, the gender gap, the diversity gap, and the fight between the tea party movement and the establishment.
“The new definition by the tea party of the establishment is ‘anybody who’s been elected one day longer than I am,’” he said. “You can’t have that kind of anarchist, ‘throw the bums out even if they’ve only been in office for a couple of weeks’ mentality.”
“If you look back, we should have won the U.S. Senate in 2010, a historic election for Republicans, and we lost it because of the tea party-supported nominees for United States Senate. They did not fit the states where they were running, whether you agree with them and their positions or not. … We were projected to win 54 U.S. Senate seats this year, and a conservative PAC who supported seven upstart tea party nominees for the U.S. Senate got them nominated and lost seven of nine. You just can’t look at that and go ‘OK, that means anybody with the tea party needs to be nominated by the Republican Party at every state in the country’ and expect us to actually win the majority.”
It takes 50 percent plus one in order to govern, Garrett said.
“We now have two data-driven election cycles to show that it’s great to be out there and claim pure principle. but at the end of the day if you’re not winning, so we got to come up with a different formula,” Garrett said.
Towery, who said he agreed with Garrett’s analysis, said he expected to see a war between the establishment and nonestablishment Republicans.
“This is what some of these folks are going to write, they’re going to say ‘we are tired of nominating these people who don’t represent the quote real Republican Party,’” Towery said.
Chamber CEO David Connell asked about the impact of the Benghazi attack and Hurricane Sandy on the election.
Towery said he never understood why Romney soft-pedaled the Benghazi controversy. Perhaps they were afraid that Obama had a piece of intelligence that could make Romney look foolish if he stepped out on the ledge of that issue, Towery said. As for the storm, it froze the momentum that Romney picked up after Obama’s fumbled the first debate. The glowing remarks New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had for Obama didn’t help Romney either, Towery said.
Tutterow offered up some gloomy news for what the next four years of an Obama presidency will look like.
“Clearly last night was a bad night for the banking industry,” Tutterow said, noting the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was here to stay.
It didn’t help that Democrat Elizabeth Ann Warren, known for going after financial institutions, unseated Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
Also here to stay is Obamacare, Tutterow said.
“If there was a chance at rolling back Obamacare, it probably died last night,” he said. “Once it gets further integrated with the economy, it’s going to be harder to take it away.”
And one or two U.S. Supreme Court justices are likely to retire in the next four years, giving Obama the opportunity to replace them with justices who can impact economic and political policies for decades to come.
“Republicans are going to have to have a very honest dialogue with themselves about two issues,” Tutterow said.
One is does their base need to change. The other is their economic platform. Campaigning on a platform to reduce taxes may no longer be effective. While Reagan was a master at convincing people that such a program would lift all boats, that message didn’t work this time, Tutterow said.
One of the reasons Romney lost in the blue-collar communities of Ohio and parts of Wisconsin and in the South is that there is a perception that the Republican proposals are not designed to lift all ships, Tutterow said.
Among those at the luncheon was Cobb Board of Education chairman Scott Sweeney.
“The biggest thing that you walk away from in this is that the Republicans have I think a little bit of a setback, and the important thing is to figure out how they’re going to reach a broader audience and garner their support for conservative issues,” Sweeney said.
Also in attendance was state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation. Setzler said there was some penetrating analysis on display at the luncheon.
“The one thing that wasn’t mentioned that I think was the core deciding factor in the election is Gov. Romney’s inability to communicate ideas in a way that’s understandable with voters,” Setzler said. “The real story of this election is the Republican Party had tail winds, they had a very competent candidate who had a competent message that was broader than perhaps other candidates had been in the past, but his ability to communicate who he was, what he represented to the average voter just wasn’t there.”