Republican National Committee: "This is a new way of doing things."

March 18, 2013--The Republican National Committee released a public report on the findings of its Growth & Opportunity Project, established by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in the wake of the party's defeat in the Nov. 6, 2012 presidential election (+).  Over a period of three months, five party leaders appointed by Priebus undertook a comprehensive review of the party's approach and operations, including listening sessions, focus groups, surveys, and hundreds of conference calls.  The group produced a 98-page report containing 219 recommendations covering seven areas: messaging, demographic partners, campaign mechanics, friends and allies, fundraising, campaign finance and primary process. 

The report describes "a tale of two parties."  "One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself...," the report states.  Republicans currently hold 30 governorships.  Project co-chair Sally Bradshaw said the party must learn from Republicans at the state level.  "They point the way forward," the report states.  Bradshaw also said the party "needs to stop talking to itself...driving around in circles in an ideological cul de sac."  Republicans need to present "a more welcoming form of conservativism," Bradshaw said.  Priebus emphasized that the party will change not its principles but rather "the way that we communicate."

One challenge the party faces is remedying unfavorable perceptions held by some voters.  According to the report, focus group participants described the party as "scary," "narrow minded," "out of touch," and a Party of "stuffy old men."  "The perception that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years," the report states.

The report contains many specific recommendations on campaign mechanics, from use of data and measurement to improved training to survey research and polling.  However, it is the section on messaging that addresses perhaps the most difficult challenges facing the party.  The report states, "The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become."

In 2012 Republicans fared poorly among minority voters, who comprise an increasing share of the electorate.  For example, Mitt Romney obtained only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.  The report calls for formation of a Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council and identifies steps for reaching out to HIspanics, Asian and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, women and youth.

Project co-chair Zari Fonalledas said, "If Hispanics think we don't want them here, they will close their ears."  Among its recommendations, the report states that "comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all."  Or, as Fonalledas put it, the party needs to "embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform."  Those words raise a red flag for some conservatives.  Speaking to reporters afterwards, Priebus said that "comprehensive immigration reform" does not necessarily mean a "path to citizenship" and in any event it was not his role as RNC chair to determine such matters.  Priebus said Republicans "cannot and will not write off any demographic group."

Another area where Republicans have appeared out of step with a growing number of Americans, particularly young Americans, is the question of same-sex marriage.  President Obama came out in support of gay marriage on May 9, 2012 in the midst of the presidential campaign.  On Nov. 6, 2012 voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved ballot measures legalizing same-sex marriage and voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to deny same sex couples the right to marry.  The U.S. Supreme Court is to take up the issue on March 26-27.  Some in the Republican Party are shifting their positions; most notably on March 14, Sen. Rob Portman (OH) renounced his opposition to gay marriage.

Priebus outlined a "bottom up" RNC voter engagement effort, involving hundreds of paid people.  He stated, "We're going to be doing voter engagement at a granular, community level starting now,"  He noted that the RNC had been severely hampered in the last cycle because of its financial difficulties.  At the time he started in Jan. 2011, Priebus recalled, "both credit cards of the RNC were suspended."  Priebus said he had even resorted to using his own credit card at times; the Committee only had 80 to 100 employees.  Meanwhile, Democrats had hundreds of people on the ground in 2011 (through Organizing for Action at the Democratic National Committee).

Finally, the report makes a number of recommendations about the presidential primary process which would result in a significantly different campaign flow than in 2012.  First, it calls for a more rational number of debates.  Instead of the 20 debates Republican candidates participated in during 2011-12, there would be "a still robust number of approximately 10 to 12, with the first occurring no earlier than September 1, 2015."  Second the report calls for the national Convention to be held in late June or early July instead of late August or September "to allow our nominee more time to begin the general election phase."  An early convention would in turn force a shorter primary season.  (Critics fear this change could favor establishment over grassroots candidates).

In addition to the recommendations in the report, the group presented other recommendations to the chairman, and it would be interesting to find out what those are.

The release of the RNC report follows the recent 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, held across the Potomac River at National Harbor, MD on March 14-16.  The conference drew thousands of activists from around the country, ranging from Tea Party members to social conservatives to more libertarian minded activists, for three days of speeches from prominent conservative speakers, networking and films.  While the theme of the conference was the forward-looking "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives," the subject of Republicans' loss in the presidential race inevitably came up.  For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) drew a fair bit of attention with his remarks that "the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered—I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”  In addition to obvious deficiencies in the ground game and technology, conference attendees and speakers pointed to the Republican establishment, to consultants and to the lack of a bold, conservative message as being key factors in Romney's defeat. 

In response to the report quite a number of conservatives voiced similar criticisms.   Twitchy US Politics (>), run by Michelle Malkin, described the report as a "Panderpalooza offered by GOP consultant class."  Rush Limbaugh opined, "The Republican Party lost because it's not conservative.  It didn't get its base out in the 2012 election."  The editors of National Review, while reacting favorably to recommendations on mechanics and primary process, concluded that the report had "not really...lighted on the source of the GOP’s recent electoral woes, or plausibly plotted a course correction."

While past RNC chairs have come up with proposals and initiatives for minority outreach or better use of technology, the Growth & Opportunity Project is a broad, detailed plan for modernizing the party.  Project co-chair Sally Bradshaw said she was surprised at "how serious the RNC was about us telling the truth."  Priebus stated, "Maybe a few pieces of China needed to be broken."  The RNC appears ready to move out of its comfort zone as it seeks to engage voters, and it appears ready to invest the resources to make the changes; Priebus vowed an initial $10 million budget for this work for this year.  "This is a new way of doing things," he said.  The Growth & Opportunity Project's recommendations, if implemented, will at least correct some of the GOP's deficiencies and could put Republicans on the path of winning back the White House in 2016. 
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Note: One example of Republican infrastructure building appeared just days later.  On March 21 CNN and other news outlets reported that former Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades along with Joe Pounder and Tim Miller are forming America Rising, a counterpart to American Bridge 21st Century, the group which tracked Republican candidates in the 2012 cycle.
Post Election Transition  |  2013 RNC

"The Republican Party
needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue."

"The perception that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years."

"We are confident
these recommendations and others shared with the Chairman can lead to many victorious campaigns for our party."