A Republican National Committee report says the party should change the way it recruits candidates, talks to voters, uses technology, raises money and reaches out to minorities in an effort to appeal to a broader base of voters and win elections.
Republicans have become too insular, frequently sound like bookkeepers and need to be more inclusive in dealing with those who disagree with the party platform on abortion rights and same-sex marriage, the report, released today, says. Party leaders commissioned it after 2012 election losses spotlighted demographic and technological shortfalls with Democrats.
“There’s no one reason we lost,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, 41, said this morning at the National Press Club in Washington. “Our message was weak, our ground game was insufficient, we weren’t inclusive, we were behind in both data and digital, and our primary and debate process needed improvement.”
Priebus said the RNC would spend $10 million this year, an unprecedented amount in a non-election year, to hire hundreds of workers to network with, court and register minority voters.
“We’ve never put this many paid boots on the ground this early in an off year,” he said. “We’ve also never been this dedicated to working at the community level, to win minority votes, household to household.”
Some of the report’s proposed mechanical changes could be accomplished with adequate funding; those that call for a philosophical pivot -- becoming more accepting of those who disagree with the party’s positions -- will be harder to enforce. Candidates straying from Republican doctrine in recent years have been penalized by the party’s base in elections.
“Our standard should not be universal purity,” Sally Bradshaw, one of the report’s authors and a longtime consultant to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, said at a briefing today.
The report, which includes more than 200 recommendations and runs almost 100 pages, is often blunt.
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” it says. “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
The report calls for the party to be more inclusive, or risk becoming further marginalized.
“When it comes to social issues, the party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming,” the report says. “If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues.”
Priebus said party leaders need to “constantly remind everybody” to treat all, including gays and minorities, with dignity and respect. The party would continue to support Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who last week said he would back same-sex marriage after revealing that his son is gay, he said.
“It’s his decision,” Priebus said. “I support him having that opinion.”
Priebus also made clear he doesn’t expect any of the party’s policy positions to change.
“Our policies are sound,” he said. “But I think that, in many ways, the way that we communicate can be a real problem.”
The report calls for a shorter primary campaign season and no more than a dozen debates during that period, with the first no earlier than Sept. 1, 2015. It also says the party should consider penalizing candidates through the loss of convention delegates if they don’t abide by the party’s debate structure.
On wooing more female voters, the report calls for the creation of a list of surrogates based on their policy and political expertise and calls on the RNC’s media team to focus on “booking more women on TV on behalf of the party and be given metrics to ensure that we aren’t just using the same old talking heads.”
The party also needs to “educate Republicans on the importance of developing and tailoring a message that is non-inflammatory and inclusive to all,” the report says.
On immigration, the report calls on the party to “embrace and champion comprehensive” changes.
“If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only,” it says. “Comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
To court younger voters, the report says Republican leaders need to more actively participate in interviews on the programs that they watch. It also calls for all party digital and data efforts to have the young voter as a major focus.
To match the Democrats’ advantage in technology, the RNC should hire a chief technology and digital officer by May 1, the report says.
It also calls for the creation of a data platform for the party that would be accessible to all qualified Republican organizations and campaigns so they can share information. Priebus said the RNC plans to open a field office in Silicon Valley to boost its ties to the technology development community.
The report also recommends a more populist tone.
“We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare,” it says. “We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.”
Formally known as the Growth and Opportunity Project, the effort was initiated by Priebus on Dec. 10 as a way to study how Republicans can find more electoral success -- from the local level to Congress and the presidency.
The study group’s other members included Henry Barbour, nephew of former Mississippi governor and RNC chairman Haley Barbour; Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under President George W. Bush; and RNC members Zori Fonalledas of Puerto Rico and Glenn McCall of South Carolina.
Priebus also said he wants the party’s national convention, typically held in late August or early September in presidential election years, moved to June or July. He argued that 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was hampered by his inability to tap funds slated for the general election to defend himself against Democratic attacks ahead of a late August convention.
Before any of the proposed fixes can take full effect, Republican leaders may face their internal fissures that have led to the nomination of candidates viewed by independent voters as too extreme.
Some Republicans unhappy with losses in 2012 are pushing for a new core message and moderation on social issues and views on how to deal with undocumented immigrants, while others are arguing the party needs to stick to principles.
That tension was on display this past weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, where most of the speakers called on the party to stick to its core beliefs and there was no indication that the party base is willing to change the type of candidates it backs.
Exit polls of voters in the Nov. 6 election showed President Barack Obama dominating Romney among single women, Hispanics, blacks and younger voters en route to carrying eight of the nine states both camps viewed as the most competitive. Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, the exit polls showed. That translated to a 44-percentage-point advantage over Romney, who won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote -- down from 31 percent for the party’s presidential ticket in 2008, 44 percent in 2004 and 35 percent in 2000.
Blunting those Democratic advantages is critical for Republicans: Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority bloc of voters, and the party risks losing much of an entire generation if they can’t appeal to younger voters.
One area not directly addressed by the study group is how the party goes about selecting its candidates for statewide races in the era of the anti-tax Tea Party movement.
Losses by Tea Party-backed U.S. Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana who drew controversy with comments about rape and pregnancy cost Republicans seats that they were poised to win a year before the election. When combined with similar defeats in 2010, some Republicans have complained that the primary fights that led to Democratic victories prevented them from gaining control of the Senate.
“We don’t pick winners and losers in primaries,” Priebus said. “It’s a business that we’re not in.”