In GOP circles, there is a lot of chatter about the role of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and the role they did or didn’t play in last night’s Mississippi runoff. Most of the complaints are that they got involved in the primary at all. But most seem to fundamentally misunderstand what the NRSC and its House counterpart the NRCC actually do.
Unlike the RNC and state parties, the NRSC and NRCC are NOT primarily party building operations. They are, in musical terms, the A&R department of the political process. For those unfamiliar with A&R, here is a brief description from that linked definition.
The A&R division of a record label is responsible for finding new recording artists and bringing them to the record company. They are expected to understand the current tastes of the market and to be able to find artists that will be commercially successful.
Similarly, the NRSC and NRCC work to identify people within the party structure that show an aptitude for getting things done, running successful campaigns & organizations, having a solid reputation within the community and crossing a magic threshold called viability.
Sometimes that works and candidates get elected. Sometimes it doesn’t and they flame out in the campaign.
When they get elected, the NRSC and NRCC move to a new mode – to protect that initial investment and development by supporting their incumbents. Talent A&R at a music label IS a bit different. If the talent fails to sell units, A&R will cut them loose. The music industry is full of one-hit wonders that blew up on takeoff and whose label took the cash and ran.
Some wish the NRCC and NRSC behaved the same, and simply turned to a new young artist when their politicians hit a sour note. However, the incumbents raise the vast majority of NRSC and NRCC funds. You don’t ingratiate yourself with the people that provide your bread and butter by opposing them in primaries or leaving them out to dry.
Granted, that is not always the case. In the event of an Anthony Weiner or similar public implosion, the committees may cut ties and walk away. But that is rare because it is simply not consistent with their mission as an acquisition and retention committee.
There are a lot of organizations you can blame for not supporting primary challengers or for supporting incumbents, but chiding the NRSC and NRCC for doing so is blaming the leopard for having spots.