Garrett spoke about why Obama beat Mitt Romney and what the Republican Party must do if it wants to regain the presidency in a talk to the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club at the Hilton Marietta Conference Center on Friday.
“We are in the middle of destroying through factions, and it’s not just one or two, it’s multiple factions, the organization that you have to put together to win the electoral vote,” Garrett said.
He called on the Republican establishment and tea party movement to unite, since it was the only way either group would achieve its goals.
Tea parties and RINOs
“You know what the definition of the establishment is?” Garrett asked. “I talk to all my friends who want to attack the establishment. It’s the person who’s been involved in Republican politics one day longer than them, right?”
As for the tea party, Garrett said he has a spreadsheet in his office that lists 121 groups in Georgia with the words “tea party” in them.
“J.D. Van Brink represents one of the tea party, right?” Garrett said. “But he’s the first to tell you he doesn’t represent all the tea party because the genius of it is it’s a grassroots organization of individuals who all come together for different things.”
Some tea party groups like Van Brink’s Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party meet weekly on Roswell Street with 100 person turnout and are organized and thoughtful about policy and achieving their goals. Others consist of a guy living in a basement, typing away on his blog at 2 a.m. in his boxer shorts, Garrett said.
The former chief of staff of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb), Garrett also said it’s time to retire the word RINO or Republican In Name Only.
“I mean, if we could please end the use of a term if we want to win elections,” he said. “Everybody’s definition of a RINO is anybody that doesn’t agree with them 100 percent of the time, and I’ll tell you (the late economist) Friedrich Hayek would tell you right now if you find someone you agree with 100 percent of the time somebody is not thinking because rational human beings disagree.”
Money and incumbency
Republicans shouldn’t be so hard on themselves that Romney lost since the incumbent is usually going to win an election. There was also the fact that the Obama campaign spent $2.2 billion compared to the Romney campaign’s $1.2 billion, he said.
“Unlike so many conservative analysts who are just wrong on television — but you watch them anyway — and unlike so many people on radio who don’t know what they’re talking about because they’ve never run a campaign in their lives — they’ve all got you convinced that the question is, ‘Why did Romney lose?’” Garrett said. “And what are we doing? We’re sitting around in a circular firing squad shooting at each other. In reality, the question is, ‘Why did Barack Obama win?’ He won because he was an incumbent.”
There are 314 specific counties in the states of Ohio, Florida , Virginia and Colorado that sent Obama to victory.
“Whether the power of incumbency, the finances, the grassroots operations, the technology, the war on women, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, all of these things factored in, and it was something different in every one of the 314 counties that was the margin of difference in the Electoral College, which is where we lost the presidency eventually,” Garrett said. “But for those four states we would have won.”
There are a number of things the Republican Party did well. It still has 30 governors, it elected new attorneys general and it held on to the U.S. House.
“Thank goodness because it’s the last great fortress we have against European-style socialism over the next three and a half years in this country,” he said.
Gender, diversity and generational gaps
Garrett spoke of three macro trends that proved detrimental for Republicans in those 314 counties, trends the party must address if it intends to win the Senate next year and the presidency in 2016.
Those trends will also determine whether Georgia maintains a Republican state Legislature by 2020.
The first problem is the gender gap.
“While there’s some comfort in the fact that we won white women, the problem is that we won white women,” Garrett said. “And I’m here to tell you that anybody under the age of 45 that hears anybody talking about breaking things up by race, they get upset by that because they think that we are the party of old white men and old white women, no offense to anybody in the room, but that’s how we are perceived by any focus group.”
The second problem is the diversity gap.
“Georgia is going to be a majority-minority state sometime in the early part of the next decade,” Garrett said. “It may even be sooner than that if the birth rates continue the way they are and we continue to have people out migrating and passing away. We can’t be like Seinfeld who said, ‘oh, I got my one black friend. I’ve got my one black friend here.’ You just can’t do that. That is so typical of the way some folks in our party want to do. ‘I’ve got my one Hispanic friend, and I’m going to learn two phrases of Spanish. And therefore I’m going to attract a substantial voter group.’”
The third problem is the generational gap.
“If you look out over the last 20 years of elections over at the national level and at the state of Georgia we are losing the 18 to 24 year old vote,” Garrett said.
Style and substance
Winning back the presidency and the Senate doesn’t mean Republicans abandon their principles. But it does matter how they talk about those principles. He quoted political consultant Frank Luntz, who said if Americans are asked if they favor the estate tax on rich people 80 percent will say “yes.” But if the same group is asked if they support the death tax, 80 percent will say “no.”
“The principle hasn’t changed, but how you talk about the issue matters,” Garrett said. “So when we talk about abortion, when we talk about gay marriage, when we talk about guns, when we talk about immigration, how we talk about it matters as much as what we talk about.”
Republicans have a good chance at achieving 51 seats in the senate in next year’s election, said Garrett.
“But not if we think for example, I love Congressman Paul Broun, he’s a great guy, but he couldn’t win in Maine if everybody left the state and voted for him, right?” Garrett said. “He is too conservative for Maine.”
Garrett mentioned former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who was regarded as a moderate in her party until she retired.
“Everybody in here — and I know half of you did, were like, ‘good riddance. We want to get rid of her. She’s not as conservative as I am.’ Well now we’ve got a socialist for Maine. How did that work out for us? It didn’t work out for us.”
Get off the social issues
Among those in attendance Friday was former state Rep. Judy Manning (R-Marietta), who called Garrett’s message “right on.”
“I think he’s absolutely 100 percent correct,” Manning said. “We have got to get out of our box, and we’ve got to be inclusive.”
Holly Comer Tuchman, CEO and executive director the YWCA of Northwest Georgia, said she agreed with Garrett’s message as well.
“I believe we need to get off of some of these social issues, we need to be focusing on our defense and safety of our country, and the people who defend the freedoms that we have, creating jobs and the economy, and we are losing voters, especially young voters, because we don’t get off these social issues," Tuchman said. “It doesn’t mean we give up our principles of what we believe, but is that really the role of government, and that’s what Heath was saying in a little different way than I am saying it, but I am seeing a lot of our legislators that they’re focusing on the social issues and not focusing on the real issues that government should be focused on to help this country grow and prosper and be all that we can be.”