TIME 2016 Election

Romney ‘Seriously Considering’ 2016 Bid With Focus On Poverty

Mitt Romney is seen in attendance as Charlie Baker was sworn in as the governor of Massachusetts at a ceremony inside the House Chamber at the State House on Jan. 8, 2015 in Boston.
Mitt Romney is seen in attendance as Charlie Baker was sworn in as the governor of Massachusetts at a ceremony inside the House Chamber at the State House on Jan. 8, 2015 in Boston. John Tlumacki—Boston Globe/Getty Images

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sought to cast himself as a champion of the nation’s poor Friday, as he announced he is giving a third presidential campaign “serious consideration.”

Addressing the GOP’s elite at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee aboard the U.S.S. Midway, Romney premiered a brand new stump speech, laying out the themes of his proto-campaign and for the party in the “post-Obama era.”

“First, we have to make the world safer,” Romney said. “Second, we have to make sure and provide opportunity for all Americans regardless of the neighborhood they live in. And finally, we have to lift people out of poverty. If we communicate those three things effectively, the American people are going to be with us—be with our nominee and with our candidates across the country.”

Romney received a warm welcome from the members of the RNC in his first appearance with them since his Nov. 2012 loss to President Barack Obama. “It’s nice to appear with friends like this, I gotta tell ya,” he said over the clamor of applause as he took the stage.

In strikingly personal terms for the famously wooden candidate, Romney spoke about his service as a “pastor” in the Mormon Church helping the poor, saying of his wife, Ann, “She’s seen me work with people who are very poor to help them get help.” Romney aides said that should he formally announce he would be more comfortable showing his warmer private persona in public.

“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse, and there are more people in poverty in America than ever before,” Romney said. “People want to see rising wages, and they deserve them,” he added.

He argued that conservative principles would best address the problem.

“The only policies that will reach into the hearts of American people and pull people out of poverty and break the cycle of poverty are Republican principles, conservative principles. They include family formation, and education and good jobs and we’re going to bring them to the American people and finally end the scourge of poverty in this great land.”

The focus on poverty reflected a significant change of tune for Romney, a multimillionaire private equity executive who famously told a group of donors that 47 percent of Americans would never vote for him because they are dependent on government and “believe that they are victims.” Romney’s 2012 campaign even prevented his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, from incorporating a discussion of poverty into his stump speech.

But Romney continued to echo his infamous line, as well as his assertion after the election that Obama won in 2012 because he gave “gifts” to minority voters, saying of Democrats, “Their liberal policies are good every four years for a campaign, but they don’t get the job done.”

Romney, who believes his 2012 critiques of the Obama foreign policy have been vindicated, sharply criticized the president’s handling of global crises and geopolitical threats. “The world is not safer six years after Barack Obama has been in office,” he said, referencing last week’s terrorist attacks in France, Nigeria, and Yemen. “Terrorism is not on the run.”

Romney indicated that his wife is on board with a potential third campaign. “She believes that people get better with experience, and heaven knows I have experience running for president,” he quipped, adding, “Me, I’m giving some serious consideration to the future.”

Romney said regardless of his decision, he would work to support the Republican Party’s nominee in 2016.

In his introduction, RNC Chair Reince Priebus effusively praised Romney in his introduction, crediting him for his help for GOP candidates in 2014.

“Governor Romney was the man over these last two years,” Priebus said. “I just want to thank him for all of the work that he did, beside the life-changing experience of being the nominee, Mitt Romney was a person who spent the next two years helping our party, helping our party rebuild, and helping our party grow.”

But Romney, who faced a skeptical, if friendly audience, did not put an end to doubts that his candidacy would be in the party’s best interests.

“We heard some new themes tonight from Governor Romney, but we heard many other candidates’ new themes this week,” said South Carolina Chairman Matt Moore. “What’s clear is that this primary is going to be seriously competitive—whether Governor Romney gets in, or not.”

“I think he was talking about supporting the team,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, discounting Romney’s talk that he’s seriously considering a bid. “Obviously he’s doing a trip around to ask people whether they think he should be the candidate, but the important thing:, he made a strong commitment to the RNC here tonight that regardless of the outcome he’d be supporting the nominee.”

Issa would not say whether he thought Romney should launch a third bid for the White House.

TIME 2016 Election

Republicans Re-Elect Party Chair for ‘Do or Die’ 2016 Campaign

Reince Priebus
Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus addresses an audience at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Boston. Steven Senne—AP

Reince Priebus overwhelmingly elected to third term at party helm

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was overwhelmingly re-elected to a third term at the party’s helm Friday, in a show of support for his strategy to assist Republicans in retaking the White House.

Priebus, the only nominee for the post, said the next two years are “a do or die moment” for the GOP, warning of an existential crisis should a Republican not retake the White House. Only two of the 168 committee-members voted against him.

“What this means is that it is a do or die moment for our party,” he said. “If we don’t win in 2016, I have a terrible feeling the national party doesn’t exist in the same way that it is today.”

Priebus has overseen the party during a period of diminishing importance as super PACs have strengthened the power of outside groups. But he has focused its efforts on rebuilding the GOP’s data and field programs in an effort to create a permanent GOP campaign on par with Democratic efforts.

“It is an honor and it is also a huge responsibility for me to finish the chapter here in rebuilding the Republican National Committee,” Priebus told reporters. “I think that winning a third term means I have a massive responsibility to rebuild our party, to put our nominee in the best position possible and not repeat the same result that happened in 2012.”

In 2011, Priebus took over a party laden with debt and drama, and has led the GOP to record financial success. But his electoral record is mixed, having overseen both the failed effort to recapture the White House in 2012, as well as last year’s Republican wave.

TIME 2016 Election

First Republican Presidential Debate Will Be in August

Wolf Blitzer
CNN's Wolf Blitzer speaks to the audience at the Republican presidential candidates debate in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Paul Sancya—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Get ready: The first Republican primary debate is just eight months away, the Republican National Committee announced Friday, along with the calendar for the first nine debates of the 2016 cycle.

Republican candidates participated in more than 20 debates in the 2012 election cycle, which the national party credited with weakening eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney. After conversations with media partners and candidates, the party announced that it has decided on 12 debates for the 2016 cycle, the first in August in Ohio, likely in Cleveland, where the party will host its national convention on July 18-21, 2016.

After the first debate, the RNC is planning on one debate each month through January. After the Iowa Caucuses, the RNC plans for three more debates in February, with two more in March.

“This schedule ensures we will have a robust discussion among our candidates while also allowing the candidates to focus their time engaging with Republican voters,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “It is exciting that Republicans will have such a large bench of candidates to choose from, and the sanctioned debate process ensures voters will have a chance to gain a chance to hear them.”

Under RNC rules adopted last year, Republican candidates will only be allowed to participate in the RNC-sanctioned debates if they forswear attending unsanctioned ones, ensuring there won’t be a repeat of the 2012 process.

RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer, who has coordinated the effort for the RNC, said precise dates for the debates will be announced in due time, once negotiations with venues are completed. Spicer said that Republican candidates have been “huge champions” of the effort to curtail the frequency of debates, which require candidates to take time off the trail fundraising and meeting voters in order to prepare.

Spicer said the networks will have final say on the eligibility criteria for each debate, expected to be key factor with an expected crowded field of candidates, but said that the RNC stressed that the viability threshold for later debates will be tougher than those earlier in the process.

Spicer told reporters there would be conservative media partners and panelists for the debates, but said networks would retain editorial control over them. He wouldn’t say whether conservative media participation was a prerequisite for hosting a debate, but said it was always the plan that an “element of conservatism be brought into these debates in some shape or form.”

The schedule:

1. Fox News: August 2015, Ohio

2. CNN: September 2015, California

3. CNBC: October 2015, Colorado

4. Fox Business: November 2015, Wisconsin

5. CNN: December 2015, Nevada

6. Fox News: January 2016, Iowa

7. ABC News: February 2016, New Hampshire

8. CBS News: February 2016, South Carolina

9. NBC/Telemundo: February 2016, Florida

Pending

10. Fox News: March 2016

11. CNN: March 2016

12: Conservative Media Debate: TBD

 

TIME 2016 Election

Scott Walker Moves Toward Presidential Run as ‘New, Fresh Leader’

Republican National Committtee's "Building on Success" meeting in San Diego
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker takes the stage to address fellow Republicans at a dinner during the Republican National Committtee's "Building on Success" winter meeting in San Diego on Jan. 15, 2015 Earnie Grafton—Reuters

"Scott Walker's a guy you want to have a beer with — a Miller Lite”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker left little doubt Thursday that he is planning to run for the White House in 2016.

Speaking to the Republican National Committee (RNC) at its winter meeting in San Diego, the union-busting Midwesterner cast himself as a “new, fresh leader,” laying out a clear rationale for his candidacy as a blue-state governor with a proven record of reforming government.

“I look at our country, and I’m worried about our country the same way that I was worried about my state back in 2009,” Walker said when discussing his two sons, craftily referencing the year he decided to launch his first campaign for the governorship.

Less than 24 hours before former Republican nominee Mitt Romney will address party leaders as he considers a third White House campaign, Walker said, “People want a fresh, new look. They want new ideas.”

“I want to share a vision: I think we have a unique opportunity going forward, not only for the good of this party, but more importantly for the good of the country, to find a new, fresh leader out there who can take big bold ideas, take ideas that come from of outside of Washington, from the states all the way down to the grassroots,” Walker added. “We need someone who hopefully has the backing and the track record of success, of showing that common sense conservative reforms can work not just in Wisconsin, but they can work all across America.”

Since winning re-election in November, Walker has been at work expanding his political operation to lay the groundwork for a presidential run. In recent weeks Walker hired former RNC political director Rick Wiley to serve as campaign manager. Before his address, he met privately with RNC members from the presidential early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina to discuss his likely bid. On Friday he is set to meet with San Diego-area donors, and is expected to launch a political group to boost his national profile in short order.

Walker’s 2012 recall election following efforts to dramatically weaken his state’s public-sector unions turned him into a cause célèbre for the Republican grassroots, and provides a convenient narrative to share on the campaign trail: besting a Democratic President and union allies three times in four years, in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican President since Ronald Reagan. The experience allowed him to build a nationwide network of donors and supporters who will be essential when he formally declares. But Walker still struggles with name recognition, and seems unlikely to attract a cadre of high-dollar donors in a field with Romney, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

But Walker and his team are betting that his unassuming style — he joked he buys his suits off the rack at Kohl’s — and the ability to appeal to all corners of the party, will help him carry the day. In a warm introduction, RNC chairman Reince Priebus, a fellow Wisconsinite, paid his friend high praise. “Scott Walker’s a guy you want to have a beer with — a Miller Lite,” he said.

Walker’s workman-like address touched on his biography, record as governor and vision for the country, and included an obligatory critique of likely Democratic nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Walker said the onetime First Lady was one of the big losers along with Democratic congressional and gubernatorial candidates on election night last year.

“She lives in Washington, she worked in Washington,” he said. “You look at everything that people dislike about Washington, and she embodies it.”

“I believe in addition to offering a contrast, pointing out that Washington isn’t the place for the answers to the challenges that we face in this country,” Walker said, in an implicit contrast with his party’s Senators vying for the White House.

Walker’s speech was focused on laying out his principles, warning of American decline both at home and overseas. “The idea that the next generation might grow up in a country that’s not at least as great as the one we grew up in is fundamentally unacceptable,” Walker said. In a populist nod, the 47-year-old dad of two positioned himself as a candidate who would be more responsive to the party’s grassroots than special interests groups.

After his remarks, Walker was asked about Romney’s potential candidacy, saying only he was a “good man” before exiting the ballroom.

The Democratic National Committee responded to Walker’s comments Friday morning, tying Walker to conservatives in Washington like Sen. Ted Cruz.

“What people don’t like about Washington are politicians who are more focused on helping the elite few than the middle class, and politicians who are more interested in dividing us than coming together to help the middle class,”DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee said in a statement. “By those measures, Walker is the last guy to talk about any sort of new approach. He’s pushed tax cuts geared toward the wealthy, while Wisconsin has shifted toward a low-wage economy. And his divisive style has polarized state government in a way that would make Ted Cruz proud. Scott Walker has already taken the worst of Washington and brought it to Wisconsin.”

TIME 2016 Election

Mitt Romney Faces Skepticism, Frustration as He Looks to 2016

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, addresses a crowd of supporters while introducing New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown at a farm in Stratham, N.H. on July 2, 2014. Charles Krupa—AP

“I think the party wants to see a new candidate,” said the party's Pennsylvania chairman

When former Mitt Romney steps across on the deck of the U.S.S. Midway on Friday evening, the former GOP presidential nominee who is considering a third bid for the White House will be greeted by many skeptical faces from his party’s leadership.

Four years after the Republican establishment’s support propelled him to the nomination, many members of the Republican National Committee are telling him to step aside.

“I just don’t believe it’s Gov. Romney’s turn,” said New York national committeeman Charles Joyce. “He’s missed the boat. We’d rather try something else.”

A week after Romney allies and donors sent the strongest signal yet that he is exploring a third bid for the White House, Romney aides announced Thursday that Colin Reed, the campaign manager for former Sen. Scott Brown’s New Hampshire Senate race, was joining Romney’s team in a volunteer capacity. But at the GOP’s winter meeting, many in the Republican Party elite expressed frustration with the way their former nominee has conducted himself. Last year, Romney repeatedly ruled out running again, but has sent signals that he is seriously considering doing so, scrambling the equation for donors, operatives and supporters who previously supported him but interpreted his denials as a license to explore supporting other candidates.

“Obviously, I think all of us feel like if he had been elected in 2012, the country would be in much better shape,” said John Ryder, the party’s general counsel and the committeeman from Tennessee. “He’s got to make a case as to why this time would be better than the last time, and how he can reclaim the loyalty of some of the folks who have started to drift off.”

“[Romney] doesn’t clear the field for anyone,” he added.

Henry Barbour, the committeeman from Mississippi and one of the authors of the party’s autopsy that was sharply critical of the previous Romney effort, said, “clearly getting past 2012 is going to be his challenge.”

But Barbour added his previous candidacy was hardly disqualifying. “We want to nominate the person who’s going to win the White House, period. If that’s someone who has never run before, if that’s somebody who has been our nominee before, if that’s somebody from Mars, if they will advance our policy agenda and take back the White House, that’s who we want to have win the nomination.”

Romney faces lingering frustration from some in his party that he spoiled an opportunity to defeat President Barack Obama.

“When he went into that race, people thought there was a very good chance for Republicans given the state of the economy and it looked like it should have been the Republicans to lose, and he did,” said Maine party chairman Rick Bennett. “He needs to find a way to answer that.”

“Governor Romney is a good man,” echoed South Carolina chairman Matt Moore. “But my question is, ‘how would this campaign be different than 2012″‘ Because if everything is the same, the result will be the same.”

Republican leaders expressed doubts that Romney could reverse the public perception that his wealth has placed him out of touch with ordinary Americans, while worrying that lingering controversies over his suggestion that illegal immigrants “self-deport” and that 47% of Americans “believe that they are victims” would set the party back in its efforts to rebrand.

Steve King, the committeeman from Wisconsin, said Romney’s candidacy could undermine Republican efforts to put a new face on the party. “We need freshness. If Mitt Romney wants to win he’s going to have to figure out how to be fresh,” he said.

Romney supporters on the committee have been making the case that his name recognition and experience make him the ideal candidate to take on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, adding that he has been vindicated on some foreign policy issues. But their behind the scenes efforts to convince RNC members to keep an open mind are falling on many deaf ears.

“I think the party wants to see a new candidate,” said Pennsylvania chairman Rob Gleason. “The people here want to see someone new,” he added, of the RNC membership. “I think the whole country is looking for someone new.”

One RNC member from the South said nominating Romney again would be tantamount to electing Clinton. “We may be saddled with that again,” the member said on the condition of anonymity, “but if we are, then we better be making provisions for Hillary.”

TIME Republican Party

GOP Censures Member for Racist Posts and Calls for Resignation

Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema speaks in Lansing, Mich. on Dec. 14, 2013.
Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema speaks in Lansing, Mich. on Dec. 14, 2013. Robert Killips—AP

Scandalous statements by Michigan national committeeman Dave Agema have been a thorn in the GOP's side

The Republican National Committee’s executive committee voted Wednesday to censure a party leader who has repeatedly posted racist and homophobic material to social media.

In a closed-door vote in San Diego, the Republican Party leadership also demanded the resignation of Dave Agema, the Michigan national committeeman whose controversial statements have been a thorn in the side of the GOP as it seeks to rehabilitate its image with minority voters.

“Dave Agema’s history of harmful and offensive rhetoric has no place in our party, which is why the RNC executive committee acted in the swiftest way possible to avoid giving him a platform,” Chairman Reince Priebus said shortly after the vote. “We have voted to censure him, and we are urging the Michigan GOP and their voters to explore options to discipline Agema for his actions. Today, we used all available tools to remove him from the committee.”

In recent years, Agema posted an article on his Facebook page that describe gay people as “filthy,” followed with posts supporting Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws and questioning whether Muslim-Americans have ever contributed to American society. The latest effort to unseat Agema began on New Years Day, when Agema reposted an article from a white supremacist magazine that he called “very interesting.”

For more than a year, Agema has refused calls from local officials and Priebus to step aside. On Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a 2016 hopeful who will address the committee Thursday evening, added his name to the chorus. Republican Party rules do no permit the national party to remove a committee member from office.

The party’s autopsy into Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 urged the GOP to launch an intensive effort to engage with communities who have traditionally voted for Democrats, a campaign that saw modest gains in the 2014 midterm elections. Party leaders believe Agema has become a distraction.

On Tuesday, Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins penned a letter to all 168 members of the RNC that urged action against Agema.

“We know what we need to do, and the communities we need to get into, and we’re geared to 2016,” Mullins said during the vote. “So having statements like this being made by a partly leader in Michigan doesn’t help us at all.”

After the vote, Priebus said, “we cannot allow one man’s fringe views to undermine the work that is ahead of us.”

Michigan GOP Chairman Bobby Schostak, a member of the Executive Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that he supports the anti-Agema effort: “My position remains unchanged from a year ago, I hope Mr. Agema will voluntarily resign, but if he does not, The Michigan Republican Party will continue exploring all possibilities to address the actions of Michigan’s current Republican National Committeeman.”

Agema traveled to San Diego for this week’s GOP Winter Meeting. Whether he will heed the new calls to step down remains unclear.

Mullins said if Agema does not resign by Friday, when the full RNC will meet in a general session, he hopes the full body will move to censure Agema and again call for his resignation.

TIME curiosities

Partying Politics: LIFE Goes to a Republican Women’s Bacchanal

Recalling the night when the Young Women's Republican Club of Milford, Conn., discovered the pleasures of tobacco, poker … and strip tease

“On the evening of May 20,” begins an article in the June 16, 1941, issue of LIFE magazine, “members of the Young Women’s Republican Club of Milford, Conn., explored the pleasures of tobacco, poker, the strip tease and such other masculine enjoyments as had frequently cost them the evening companionship of husbands, sons and brothers.”

Thus the storied weekly and photographer Nina Leen chronicled the shenanigans that erupted when a group of GOP women got together for an old-fashioned “smoker” (noun: an informal social gathering for men only) on one long, memorable night in southern New England.

[See more from LIFE]

TIME 2016 Election

Republican Governors Blast President Obama’s Immigration Plans

Rick Perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a conservative rally in Smithfield, N.C. on Oct. 24, 2014. Gerry Broome—AP

Without any announced candidacies, Republican governors appear to be jockeying for position in 2016

BOCA RATON, Fla.

As President Barack Obama prepares to announce executive action on immigration reform in a Thursday evening primetime address to the nation, he is already facing criticism from many of his would-be replacements.

At the annual retreat of the Republican Governors Association, a cohort of governors eyeing bids at the White House blasted Obama’s planned announcement even as they were silent on any counter-proposals to address the President’s concerns. The immigration debate, operatives in both parties say, is likely to be front-and-center in 2016.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called Obama’s forthcoming announcement a “profound mistake.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called it “the height of arrogance for this president to go around the Congress.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said someone should sue to stop it. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that his state would.

But the governors were by-and-large loath to offer their own vision for how to address the nation’s immigration issues. In 2013, after the party’s 2012 defeat, the Republican National Committee identified immigration reform as a must-pass issue for the GOP. But the GOP successfully bet on an older, whiter electorate in 2014 to justify the delay internally. House Republicans have refused to take up a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, a move that Obama has said prompted his unilateral action.

The only apparent consensus among the governors was that Obama was going down the wrong path and should first deal with securing the border. “You will not get Americans to support an immigration reform bill until—not together, but until—the border is secure,” Perry said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would wait to see what Obama announced before weighing in. “We will have to wait and see what he says and what he does and what the legal implications are,” he said.

The governors encouraged congressional Republicans to avoid a government funding show-down this December over Obama’s immigration actions, saying a shutdown would be counterproductive. Christie said he has “confidence” in Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell can keep the government open. “All this kind of hysteria about shutdown to me is just people wanting to make news,” Christie added. “I wouldn’t push a shutdown, I think you go to court,” Walker said.

Pence called on Republicans to use the budget process to push back against Obama’s action. “The president has an opportunity now to work with the Congress after it convenes in January and to find a piece-by-piece approach in dealing with the issue of immigration reform,” he said. “The power of the Congress is the power of the purse.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday the action would affect “millions,” while advocates familiar with the action say roughly five million will be affected.

Asked about specific immigration reform proposals, Christie repeatedly declined to weigh in. “If I run [for president], we’ll see,” he said. “If I were to run for president, I would then articulate the basis for my candidacy.”

Only Kasich explicitly stated he was open to a pathway to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. “I’m open to it, I will tell you that,” he said.

“There already is a path to citizenship in this country and I would suggest it shouldn’t be changed,” Perry said, breaking with Kasich.

TIME 2014 Election

The Inside Story of How Republicans Gaffe-Proofed Their Candidates

U.S. Sen.-elect Joni Ernst speaks to supporters during an election night rally on Nov. 4, 2014, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Ernst defeated U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.
U.S. Sen.-elect Joni Ernst speaks to supporters during an election night rally on Nov. 4, 2014, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Ernst defeated U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin. Charlie Neibergall—AP

Eager to avoid another Todd Akin, a national Republican group trained Senate candidates on how to avoid campaign-ending gaffes

On Oct. 1, 2013, 16 potential Senate Republican candidates were met at baggage claim in Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport by trackers—those annoying, hyperactive, politics-obsessed, camera-wielding twentysomethings whose job is to make a candidate lose his or hers. After a series of fundraising events and policy briefings, the candidates met at the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and recounted their stories with tales of their personal, belligerent Democrat.

“We said that’s interesting; We’d like to show you the video of you and how you reacted to the tracker because we put those trackers on you,” said Sen. Rob Portman, the NRSC Finance Vice Chairman. “The trackers were particularly aggressive … We had footage of them saying things to the tracker they shouldn’t have or being too frustrated with the tracker. I think in some cases even kind of block a tracker from some event.”

“It was just a good experience for a lot of them because most of them had never had the experience with having someone with a camera three inches from their face following them around,” added Portman.

MORE: See all the election results

The NRSC’s airport hounding was unprecedented, according to its chairman, Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran, and so was the size of its media training, which was made mandatory for the first time for candidates that wanted their financial support. “That was our leverage,” said Moran.

The training proved a prescient response to the 2014 cycle in which every move was videotaped: when New Hampshire hopeful Scott Brown canoed the Contoocook River with a county sheriff to promote the state’s tourism industry, third party opposition group American Bridge sent a tracker by kayak.

“[Virginia Republican candidate] Ed Gillespie has had three trackers on him for most of his campaign,” said NRSC Executive Director Rob Collins. “Three separate ones. So it’s just a course of learning how to deal with this new wrinkle in the campaign environment, which is reality TV presence of cameras in your life. You just kind of hunker down. I think the training worked. I don’t think you’ve seen a lot of Republicans saying things that they later regretted.”

That’s a huge victory for a Republican party that has had some high-profile difficulties with trackers and gaffes in the past. In 2006, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) lost a very close race after referring to a Democratic tracker as a “macaca.” In 2012, Todd Akin, the Senate GOP candidate in Missouri, had a gaffe so big—“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”—that it destroyed his candidacy and imperiled Republicans’ chances to take the Senate. In this cycle, no candidate has had made a mistake as big as Akin, according to John Sides, a George Washington University Associate Professor and co-author of the book The Gamble, which punctured convention wisdom on the weight of various gaffes during the 2012 presidential election.

“If you go back to the Missouri polls, you’ll see the big swing after those remarks,” says Sides. “None of the purported gaffes this cycle—not [Iowa Democrat] Bruce Braley’s, not any Senate candidate’s—have had that large of an effect.”

Of course, there were some notable Republican gaffes this cycle. Iowa candidate Joni Ernst flirted in her primary with some United Nations conservative conspiracy theories and Obama impeachment, talk she dismissed during the general election. There were also two candidates seen as insufficiently local—Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Brown—who had some embarrassing flubs. Roberts and his campaign repeatedly fanned the fire sparked by a New York Times report that he doesn’t own a home in Kansas. (“Every time I get an opponent—I mean, every time I get a chance, I’m home,” he said in a July radio interview.) Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, had some difficulty placing a New Hampshire county during a debate (although the moderator who pressed him later apologized) and interchanged the two states back in December.

But it’s notable that Sides mentioned Braley, a Democrat, in considering the biggest gaffes this cycle. NRSC Political Director Ward Baker said the group began their three-day media sessions early—in March 2013—before candidates even announced they would enter their races. The NRSC researched the candidates’ backgrounds and asked them about everything from their property taxes to potential red flags found on their Facebook profile pages. (They reportedly spent $250,000 on researching Democrat and Republican candidates in 2013.) The NRSC showed candidates polling data on what’s important in their state and then put them on camera and played them their response to hone their messages.

“[We] ran them through the ringer,” said Baker. “I mean it was pretty tough.”

The NRSC also showed once a day a “blooper film” of other candidates’ inappropriate responses to trackers. “I believe in repetition,” said Baker. “Some of our candidates have been through media training and met with our debate team and media trainers 15 to 20 times.”

Referring to Braley’s slip-up this year, Baker noted with pride: “Well none of our candidates have said that they wouldn’t want Chuck Grassley to Chair [the] Judiciary [Committee] because he’s a farmer.”

TIME Republican Party

GOP Candidates May Benefit From Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision

Supreme Court Gay Marriage
Demonstrators in support of same sex marriage stand during the second annual "March for Marriage" in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington on June 19, 2014. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

Some strategists hope the legal decision helps push the issue of gay marriage off the political agenda

The Supreme Court’s decision Monday clearing the way for same-sex marriages in five states may benefit an unlikely group: Republican lawmakers who can’t wait to stop talking about gay marriage, an issue that is increasingly becoming a drag for the party.

Advisors to multiple likely 2016 candidates told TIME after the news broke that they are hopeful that swift action by the Supreme Court will provide them cover. “We don’t have to agree with the decision, but as long as we’re not against it we should be okay,” said one aide to a 2016 contender who declined to be named to speak candidly on the sensitive topic. “The base, meanwhile, will focus its anger on the Court, and not on us.”

The initial comments of politicians also hinted at a desire to turn the page. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 contender locked in a tough re-election fight this fall, told the Associated Press that the fight to prevent same-sex marriage would end. “It’s over in Wisconsin,” he said.

“The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals decision is the law of the land and we will be upholding it,” Walker added, echoing the statement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called the issue “settled” in his state over the summer, despite his personal opposition to such unions. Christie declined to address the decision when asked about it Monday.

At a forum in Washington, D.C., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also considering a run for the White House, said the issue was moving out of the political sphere. “The law is certainly in the Court’s court,” Jindal said. Neither man said the court ruling had dented their own opposition to same sex marriage, but their statements indicated they hope to set the issue aside as they eye bids for the White House.

Wary of this possibility, evangelical leaders vowed election year fights. “For candidates running in 2014 and those who run for president in 2016, there will be no avoiding this issue,” said the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling. Yet many in the party are preparing to do just that.

“The GOP is a culturally conservative party and should remain so,” said Alex Castellanos, one of the dozens of GOP political operatives to sign on to an amicus curiae brief against the Defense of Marriage Act last year. “Increasingly, there is less room in the GOP for ‘big-government’ social conservatives, i.e., social conservatives who believe in using the power of the state to tell people whom they can love or marry. Instead, there is growing agreement, in an ever younger and increasingly libertarian Republican party, that the role of the state in prohibiting relationships should be minimized.”

In the decision Monday, the high court declined to hear challenges to appellate court rulings that five state same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, effectively approving the rulings and erecting a legal barrier to states seeking to prevent the practice from taking hold. The decision is the latest step in a whirlwind legal push in support of same-sex marriages that has the backing of the majority of the national electorate, but has polarized the GOP.

Fifty-five percent of all Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, including 30% of self-identified Republicans and 31% of self-identified conservatives. But the issue is far more pronounced among younger voters, for whom it is more likely to be a threshold issue: 78% support same-sex marriage according to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year.

Over the summer the Republican National Committee took control of the primary debate process with the expressed goal of reducing their focus on social issues, in hopes of keeping the eventual nominee from emerging from the primary process as unelectable to the national public.

Evangelical conservative leaders are likely to call upon Republican candidates to support a federal “marriage amendment” to prohibit same-sex coupling. Such an effort has the backing of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is preparing to mount another campaign for the White House, and has been backed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. An aide to Jindal said Monday he remains supportive of efforts to pass a federal marriage amendment. But few, if any, of its proponents, believe it can be passed in practice, given Constitutional requirement that two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states’ legislatures.

Sen. Ted Cruz announced Monday he would introduce a Constitutional amendment preventing the Supreme Court from striking down marriage laws. “The Supreme Court’s decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible,” he said in a statement, declaring the Court’s decision not to hear arguments on the gay marriage cases “judicial activism at its worst.”

Keith Appell, a Republican political consultant working with many social conservative groups, predicted that Republicans will turn the debate to focus on the judicial appointments likely to open up under the next president. “Filling those vacancies will shape the court for the next generation and it’ll be a huge issue in both the primaries and the general election,” he said. “Do we want activist judges who literally make the law up from the bench and impose it on the people, as is happening with these appellate rulings? Or do we want judges that fairly apply the law and leave the lawmaking to Congress, state and local legislatures?”

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