"Defeat can be a great teacher because it forced us, and the committees especially, to look at everything we had done and not done and figure out how we could do it better," said Steven Law, president and CEO of American Crossroads.
For Law, that meant months of in-depth discussions and seminars with Silicon Valley strategists and former committee leaders to determine how it could improve the quality of its TV ads and data analytics. AFP removed much of its senior national staff after its effort at grassroots mobilizing in the 2012 presidential election failed to materialize much influence on voters. The changes were biggest at the NRSC, which invested time and money in recruiting candidates and then training them to handle the high-pressure scrutiny of a Senate race.
The group hired Republican strategist Kevin McLaughlin in part to work directly with those campaigns in their home states. While the party's data and digital failures received most of the attention, McLaughlin told reporters on Thursday that the GOP's problem was closer to its core—something he told Collins and NRSC Chairman Jerry Moran when they hired him.
"Our candidates suck," he said then. "Our staffs suck. We are way behind."As Sean Sullivan reports at The Washington Post, GOP officials said that they had learned their lessons.
"We didn't just win this election on Tuesday. It started a year ago by deciding we couldn't be Akin'd anymore. No more witches. No more gaffes," said Ward Baker, the political director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Baker, who briefed reporters alongside colleagues at the NRSC, was referring to Todd Akin and Christine O'Donnell, disastrous GOP Senate nominees in 2012 and 2010 who destroyed the party's chances of picking up states they had been poised to flip.
About 80 percent of 2013 was spent on recruiting candidates, Baker said. "There were people that were either going to run or have us arrested for stalking," he quipped.
Fresh off winning back the Senate majority Tuesday and perhaps gaining as many as nine seats, NRSC officials also said that effective spending and polling, a superior ground game and flaws with the Democratic strategy boosted them to victory.
...Among other things, NRSC did shock training by confronting candidates with mock trackers at Reagan National Airport. Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report at The Washington Post:
The Republicans said their ground game worked well, despite the outsize attention paid to highly-touted Democratic efforts. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee dubbed its $60 million, 10-state ground operation the "Bannock Street Project." NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring argued that the effort fell flat and turned out to be "The New Coke" of the 2014 cycle.
From the airport, the startled candidates were whisked off to NRSC headquarters for a series of meetings. There were policy briefings led by Lanhee Chen, Mitt Romney’s former policy director, as well as communications boot camps and media training from Roger Ailes associate Jon Kraushar, who has mentored Fox News personalities.
Looming large were the ghosts of combustible campaigns past: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Ken Buck, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle.
“How do you fundamentally go about making human beings who are wildly unpredictable more predictable?” the NRSC’s Collins said. “It’s not about replacing what they believe. Pro-life is a majority view in this country, so how do you talk about it in terms that are relevant and not characterized as extreme?”
The efforts were not just an attempt to coach up their candidates; they were also designed to prove to donors that Republicans had what it takes to win.
After Romney’s devastating defeat in 2012, many donors “stood on the edge of throwing in the towel,” said Karl Rove, who spent 2013 trying to raise money for American Crossroads, a GOP super PAC. “They had real doubts about whether it was possible to get back in the game.”
When Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the NRSC vice chairman, met with major donors in New York early last year, he heard harsh complaints. “You guys blew it,” donors told Portman, according to a GOP official. “We blame you. It’s not just bad luck. You guys don’t know what you’re doing.”
After hearing similar grievances, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus narrowed the RNC’s core mission to data, digital and field operations, ceding expensive TV ads to outside groups.The GOP party committees have a memo titled "How We Did It."
And see a blog post about oppo and the role of America Rising.