The story of the 2022 election isn’t complicated. Ballasted by a favorable issue set and the tailwinds that traditionally push the party out of power to victory in midterm years, Republicans with a claim to conventionality did quite well. Republicans with no such claim—indeed, those who flamboyantly rejected the orthodoxies of conventional American politics—didn’t.

It’s a quantifiable proposition. With the data from this year’s races almost fully in, New York Times analyst Nate Cohen found that so-called “MAGA Candidates” underperformed their “traditional” Republican colleagues by roughly five points. “Non-MAGA Republicans in 2022 ran six points better than Mr. Trump did in 2020,” Cohen wrote. “The MAGA Republicans barely fared better than him at all.” What he calls the “MAGA penalty” is consistent and observable at the district and statewide levels. Even the MAGA-friendly candidates who won their races dramatically underperformed candidates with more distance from Trump’s movement on the same ballot.

The story of 2022 is pretty much the story of 2020. Then, Republican candidates beat expectations almost across the board. The Republican House minority grew by 14 seats. The GOP held on to five of its seven most imperiled seats in the Senate. Republicans gained state legislative chambers when they were expected to lose control of up to 19 of them, upending the conventional wisdom summarized by political analyst David Wasserman that “toss-ups tend to break disproportionately towards the party on offense.” The exception to this rule was Trump himself. With providential accuracy, voters defenestrated the top of the Republican ticket while rewarding many of the party’s down-ballot candidates. Following a month of drum-banging over a stolen election, though, the distinctions between the president and his party blurred to the point that the conditions contributing to the “MAGA penalty” trickled down.

The signal the electorate has sent the Republican Party over three consecutive election cycles couldn’t be clearer. As the GOP embarks on a postmortem analysis of all the opportunities it fumbled in 2022, it would be insane to allow those with a vested interest in muddying these crystalline waters to have that opportunity. However, that’s apparently what the GOP intends to do.

Politico reports this week that the Republican National Committee is conducting a “review of the party’s performance” in the midterms, and they’re bringing in a dozen Republicans from across the party’s ideological spectrum to assist. There’s nothing wrong with that, barring the axiomatic caveat that a statement drafted by committee will say less in direct proportion to the number of voices contributing to it. The council will “help chart a winning course in the years to come.” That suggests, at a minimum, its members should know something about winning elections. Most of them do, or are, at least, invested in victorious outcomes. But the bizarre inclusion of Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters on the team suggests this enterprise is willing to entertain losers, too.

At first blush, it makes little sense to include a candidate who underperformed almost every Republican in a state where Republicans lost almost every statewide race on this panel. Masters invited voters to adjudicate his darkly conspiratorial political maturation. He relied on deep-pocketed eccentrics who share his suspicion of American national interests to bankroll his campaign. He somehow managed to execute a Mitt Romney-style attempt at a post-primary image makeover with less aplomb. He adopted Trump’s most unlovely trait by seeking to preemptively discredit his state’s election results. He devoted himself wholly to the culture wars to the exclusion of the pocketbook concerns that fueled a Republican resurgence. He made himself a tribune of the Arizona GOP, which has turned against just about every candidate who ever won a statewide race in this century. He has, therefore, made a powerful contribution to Arizona’s rapid transformation into a blue state.

So, what does Masters bring to the table (besides being a token representative of a very loud albatross around the GOP’s neck)? Excuses.

While the former Senate candidate has conceded that the GOP’s aversion to voting by mail was a mistake, that seems to be the limit of his capacity for introspection. The foremost goal for the GOP, Masters said in a statement, was to ditch the “consultant one-size-fits-all strategies.”

Casting aspersions on a formless cabal of wreckers within the Republican firmament is an appealing narrative to RNC members, too. In an appearance on Fox News Channel Wednesday, committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon conceded that the GOP is on “life support” despite its recapture of the House of Representatives. To her credit, she gingerly criticized the party’s attachment to “celebrity candidates” and its appeals to the “emotions” of its base. It is, however, tough to square that salient observation with her more forceful claim that the “RNC also needs to have an Elon-style review of consultants & culture” because  there are “a lot of lame consultants bleeding us dry.”

Republicans with any memory of the Tea Party years will recognize this familiar refrain. Back when populists were still road-testing the empty bravado that typifies political discourse today, it was common to hear the new consultancy malign the old. And how did the old consultancy fight back? By attacking the populist consultants, whose primary goal was merely to “line the pockets of consultants” rather than win elections. The party’s “scam artist consultants” had to go, insisted the populist reformers. They were were “infiltrating and dividing” their insurgency even as they (including then-game show host Donald Trump) surround themselves with consultants. But then the critics of the consultancy became consultants themselves—even scam artists—who were contaminating the movement.

Uncharitably and predictably, those who notice this cycle of advantage-seeking and blame-shifting will be attacked for suggesting the consultant class is neigh infallible. It’s hard to begrudge anyone who has recently fallen on their face a modest effort to save some dignity. But the voters have given Republicans a clear story to tell. Their only job now is to write it up. The inclusion of unreliable narrators in this exercise only serves those who want to keep the party from changing course. The insurgent wing of the GOP used to call that sort of performance art “failure theater.” Well, look who’s failing now.

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