Gutknecht: A look back at the game film

It may be that we were all way too overconfident. With such a strong tailwind, nearly everyone thought we could coast to easy victories.

U.S. Capitol building/Unsplash

(Townhall) — Legendary coach Vince Lombardi observed that there are three kinds of people in this world. Those who make it happen. Those who watch it happen. And those who ask, “What happened?”

In the days following Tuesday night’s debacle, many of us find ourselves in the third group. What happened to the Big Red Wave? In such a ripe political environment how could so many of our great candidates underperform so badly? We were looking at big gains in both the House and Senate. Governorships in states like Minnesota, Oregon, Michigan, and even New York were within our grasp.

Alas, it was not to be.

All of our experts were wrong. Respected pollsters are scratching their heads and shamefully reviewing their data. Failure has indeed raised an orphan. In Washington, where taking responsibility usually carries a death sentence, the insider finger-pointing has begun. Expect to see the blame game play out for several weeks. What is needed is serious reflection and analysis, not fault-finding.

Great coaches objectively watch lots of films. They study mistakes so they can be corrected. Winners make the fewest mistakes and have the fewest turnovers. In politics like football, you are either on offense or you are on defense. Winners stay on offense, they score when they get into the Red Zone. In close games, it comes down to fundamentals. Like Vince Lombardi, they know that winners “make it happen.”

Great coaches also study the successful plays of other teams. Success leaves clues. A play that works for a competitor might wind up in next week’s playbook.

One other thing great coaches have in common; they take responsibility. When they occasionally lose they say things like “I didn’t have the team properly prepared for the offense we saw today.” When they win, they give credit to the players. When they lose, they accept the blame. Losing coaches get that turned around. They are soon called former coaches.

We will see in the coming days what the GOP coaches are made of.

Some may argue that we didn’t field the best team this year. With few exceptions, we had great candidates. From New York to Oregon we had first-round draft picks. Some of the most impressive people to ever wear the GOP jersey. Others were quick to blame former President Trump and his attempts to make this election a referendum on the last one. We can agree that sitting on a $100 million war chest and publicly taking shots at Republican candidates was not helpful.

My purpose here is not to be a Monday morning quarterback. As mentioned, there’ll be plenty of finger-pointing. We need a clear-eyed, objective review of the game film. What mistakes did we make that can be corrected before the next big contest?

It may be that we were all way too overconfident. With such a strong tailwind, nearly everyone thought we could coast to easy victories. How many times have we seen teams who tried to run out the clock way too early get caught, only to lose in the last seconds? Early victory dances can result in heartbreak.

Republicans ignored the attacks that Biden and team Democrats were hitting us with. We believed the fear-mongering over January 6 and the return-to-back-alley abortions was ridiculous. Enough millennials did not. Great coaches assume that if the other team keeps running the same play, they’ve seen some weakness in their preparations. We should have adjusted and countered those attacks. We must never assume that the other side doesn’t know what they are doing.

Another factor was the loss of our beloved Rush. This was our first national election without our chubby cheerleader. He was amazing in his ability to sense the mood of the body politic and where Republicans needed to adjust their game plan. He understood the power of words. No one today can match his ability to craft a winning message. He alone could unify the team. We miss him in so many ways.

When a team loses the homecoming game that they were favored to win by 21 points you shouldn’t be surprised by some Bronx cheers from the faithful. Many of the alumni patrons will strongly suggest that the coaches have been here long enough and that it’s time for some new energy. Those heated discussions will mostly take place behind closed doors.

Elections are like street cars, there will be another one along in a couple of years. But if we don’t take a clear-eyed look at what went wrong, we run the risk of becoming a permanent Washington Generals team perpetually playing (and losing to) the Globetrotters.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not represent an official position of Alpha News. 


Gil Gutknecht

Gil Gutknecht is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota.