Those parallels come from William Galston of the Brookings Institution, who was one of a number of Democrats who prodded the party in the late 1980s to change course. With Elaine Kamarck, now also at Brookings, he co-wrote a 1989 paper titled “The Politics of Evasion.” Their paper set out to shatter myths about why the Democrats had lost so consistently — that they had “strayed” from liberal orthodoxy or that nothing was fundamentally wrong because they still held control of the House.
Galston said the other day that parties go through a series of phases before they remake themselves. The first is denial. That no longer describes the Republicans. They awoke after Mitt Romney’s loss, recognizing they were in trouble.
“I think the Republican Party is now in phase two,” Galston said, “and phase two is always dominated by the proposition of: ‘While we have problems, cosmetic or mechanical changes will solve the problems.’ ” Changes like reframing the message, or finding a better messenger or doing something to catch up on the techniques of data mining, analytics, micro-targeting and voter mobilization. Those are essential but not close to the whole solution.
Kamarck argued that there is another false path for the Republicans — the belief that their problems are the result of a charismatic opponent.
Democrats comforted themselves with that notion after losing a second time to Reagan. Michael Dukakis’s loss to George H.W. Bush in 1988 exploded that excuse.But the 1988 example points to another excuse: that the other side won by playing dirty. To this day, some Democrats think that Bush won because of Willie Horton. A variant of the theme -- which we saw after the 2004 election -- is that the other side's technical sorcery was the cause of its victory.