If there’s one thing the 2022 midterms made clear, it’s that Democrats have a huge ground game advantage over Republicans. Whether it’s a month of harvesting (and curing) ballots thanks to early voting, or going door-to-door filling out ballots for huge swaths of unlikely voters, Democrats know that turning out ballots is more important than turning out votes. They don’t have to rely on generating traditional Election Day enthusiasm through distributing campaign mailers or running TV ads.
Republicans, however, still insist on investing the majority of their campaign funds into these antiquated (or pre-2020) methods. And they’re showing no signs of stopping. Why? Blame the political consultant class.
For years, millions of dollars in grassroots donations have gone to prop up GOP candidates, only to end up in the pockets of the political consultant class. Back during the 2012 presidential election, 10 of the consulting firms behind the effort to get Mitt Romney to the White House grossed a combined $1 billion in the process. In the 2014 election cycle, the same consultants reaped more than $19.6 billion.
“Big money campaign consultants on the GOP side are in the business of losing,” former Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp told The Federalist. “Investing in the ground game makes campaign consultants almost no money — arguably it costs them money. On the other hand, hundreds of millions of ads put 10-15 percent of that total in hand of the media buyers/consultants – and upwards of 30-50 percent of campaign mailers typically are profit.”
In the 2020 election cycle, for example, four Republican House candidates in dead-end campaigns raised over $42 million combined but drew less than 30 percent of the vote in each of their races. A lot of that money went to pay consultants.
Republican House candidate Kimberly Klacik raised more than $8 million in her bid to oust the popular Democratic incumbent. A single consulting firm took almost half of it, and Klacik lost her race by almost 50 points.
“When the incentive is on the money-making, it’s time for Republicans to reexamine this consultant class establishment that’s been running Republican Party politics,” Huelskamp said.
Axiom, one of the top GOP consulting firms, grossed nearly $50 million this past federal election cycle — despite having a success rate of only 55 percent in both the primaries and the general — per the FEC.
In just one example, in Arizona’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Blake Masters defeated Jim Lamon by a resounding 12 points — after Lamon spent $13,829,274 on Axiom.
Such bleak numbers are simply ignored by the political consulting class, which functions as a revolving door between congressional staff, GOP leadership PACs, and media consultants. Any Republican seeking higher office is immediately told which consulting firms and strategists he should hire within the GOP’s insider network.
Back in 2013, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh characterized the GOP consultant class as a “very close-knit, closed group” who are “making filthy amounts of money — $150 million a campaign — whether the candidate wins or loses.” And “they’re all moderates. None of them are really conservative.”
Because there is a financial incentive for consultants to keep pushing the same strategies they’ve used for 40 years, it will be incredibly hard for Republicans to start investing in the necessary resources to establish an effective ground game that rivals their Democrat opponents.
“There are plenty of examples where folks might win with just a bunch of media ads, but in almost all cases if it’s in a competitive race that’s not matched or exceeded by a true ground game, you don’t win,” Huelskamp said. “There’s no money to be made in that.”
Huelskamp’s comments are echoed by Shawn Steel, husband of Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.), who was just re-elected in a district that Biden carried by 6 points in 2020.
“It’s a different game because of ballot harvesting,” Steel told Breitbart News. “Since that’s the rule in California, you have to adapt or die.”
Steel’s campaign collected votes in her immigrant-heavy district by ballot harvesting in Korean and Vietnamese churches. She won her race by more than 6 points.
It’s not just the consultant class’s failure to harvest ballots that’s drawing the ire of grassroots activists, but also the messaging they’re giving candidates.
On a media call the day after the election, SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser told reporters that Republican candidates — such as Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania — erroneously listened to GOP consultants who told them to back off on talking about abortion in the wake of Dobbs. Because they shied away from the topic, Dannenfelser suggested, they let their opponents define the debate and characterize them as anti-woman.
Compare this to the Republican Senate candidates — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, North Carolina Senator-elect Ted Budd, and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance — who “exposed their opponents as extremists who support abortion on demand without limits, in contrast to a well-articulated pro-life position.” All three won their races.
Unfortunately, with Republican pundits pinning the GOP’s lackluster midterm showing on a lack of “quality candidates” and Trump (when in doubt, always blame Orange Man), the GOP will fail to learn the true lesson of the 2022 midterms: stop relying on the establishment-backed consulting class that’s addicted to losing.
As former Democratic pollster Pat Caddell put it nearly a decade ago:
“So the people who lost for you before — and are willing to lose as long as they can preserve their situation — are now in charge of your great hopes for 2014.”
Just change 2014 to 2024.
This piece has been updated to reflect that Dannenfelser did not include Blake Masters when criticizing candidates on a post-election call.