What better place than the Las Vegas Country Club, where time seems to have stopped in 1974 or so, for a group of conservatives to gather to figure out how to capture the glory days.
And what better man to deliver the message than Frank Fahrenkopf, who chaired the state and national Republican Parties during the time of The Gipper and Bush 41 and helped rebuild the GOP in Nevada and nationally. Ironically, it was almost exactly 18 years ago, sitting with Steve Wynn and others under the low ceilings and shag carpet in the same venue, that Fahrenkopf sealed the deal to become head of the American Gaming Association.
So when the retiring AGA chief arrived Tuesday to speak to the conservative Keystone Group in a talk billed as, “A 2012 election recap and the future of American Politics,” Fahrenkopf was among old friends, including former Republican National Committeeman Joe Brown, ex-Gov. Bob List and ex-state Sen. Randolph Townsend (he called him “Randy”).
But while this was a day for nostalgia – Fahrenkopf immediately invoked then-Sen. Paul Laxalt, the NV GOP’s godfather during halcyon times – the man who has been in DC for 30 years quickly made the point that this was not the old days. He told the group of nearly all white men that the times had changed when the good old boys could count on the color of nearly all of the folks who belonged to the LVCC in those days to win elections.
No, Fahrenkopf did not, ahem, whitewash the stark reality that has been analyzed to death since November. As he would later tell the group that he wrote in an email after the election, “It’s the Hispanics, stupid.”
But he went much further in a wide-ranging talk, complete with slides, to assail the GOP as “idiotic” for its stances on immigration and contraception, which caused hemorrhaging among Hispanic and young, female voters. Fahrenkopf lambasted the media for rumor-mongering, but acknowledged the GOP has not learned to coexist within that universe. And he made a few priceless, tart statements as he seemed to sense the red meat the crowd wanted, even though he emphasized that as the longtime co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, he had to be nonpartisan.
Well, sort of:
----Fahrenkopf presented a blizzard of by-now familiar statistics of how Mitt Romney had his clock cleaned by President Obama among minorities and young people. As he presented these and emphasized what he labeled the “superior Democrat voter turnout machine,” he couldn’t resist an aside about 2008: “And I thought McCain’s campaign was the worst I’d seen in modern history.”
----He presented some first-hand insight into just how unprepared the president was for that first debate when he talked about the pre-event walk-though with Obama and Mike McCurry, the ex-Clinton spokesman who co-chairs the commission with him now. “It was very clear that he was not focused,” Fahrenkopf said of the president. He speculated that Obama perhaps thought, “I’m the president all day long – I don’t have to prepare.”
----Fahrenkopf said he was proud of his role in helping to pick the debate moderators, but then added, shockingly I thought: “We made one mistake this time: Her name is Candy,” a reference to Candy Crowley of CNN, who absorbed hosannas from the left and brickbats from the right after she corrected Mitt Romney during the second debate.
----Fahrenkopf said the GOP should take the position that the country needs “sensible, fair, immigration reform.” He called Romney’s “self-deportation” comments “idiotic.” Later, he mentioned a series of GOP leaders he thought could help on the issue: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and, of course, Florida’s Jeb Bush. “We can’t end up losing 71 percent of the Hispanic vote,” he said.
----He told the GOP crowd that while media bias is real, you have to “live with it.” He lambasted the national media for its behavior, saying, “Rumor and innuendos previously never seen the light of day are hard news now.”
----Fahrenkopf couldn’t resist a criticism of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s embrace of Obama during Hurricane Sandy, providing this cringe-worthy description: “He kissed him. He didn’t have to French-kiss him. I think he went overboard.”
----Fahrenkopf said he was optimistic the GOP could make a run at the Senate in 2014. On 2016, he wondered, “Can (the Democrats) maintain their non-white voter margin with a non-white candidate?” He said he was sanguine for the GOP because of polling on the economy, where “many Americans see their dream going down the drain.”
---Fahrenkopf blamed former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, “a name that will live in infamy,” for not fixing how the primaries are run and for not limiting primary debates.
----He closed with lamentations about how toxic DC has become. Longing for the old days when House leaders such as Bob Michel and Dan Rostenkowski could get along. Fahrenkopf said members" don’t know each other so they don’t trust each other....The key is to foster the ability of members to be able to disagree agreeably over interpretations of the same set of facts,” he said.
But whether it’s good old boys like Rosty or Michel at a capital eatery or some of the attendees Tuesday on the Las Vegas Country Club golf course decades ago, Fahrenkopf’s message was clear: The good old days are gone.