Politics The Republican National Committee’s report on the future of the GOP angers social conservatives and the party’s grassroots base | Edward Lee Pitts
WASHINGTON—At last week’s annual gathering of conservatives near Washington, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the GOP lawmaker of the month, called the Republican Party “stale” and “moss-covered.”
On Monday the Republican National Committee agreed.
The RNC’s new report on the future of the party, dubbed the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” warns, “Unless something changes, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.”
The nearly 100-page report, ordered by the RNC after Republicans failed to win the White House last November, includes comments from voters calling the GOP “scary,” “narrow-minded,” “out of touch,” and the party of “stuffy, old men.”
Republicans, the report states, knows how to appeal to older voters, but it is increasingly out of touch with other demographics and has lost the ability to persuade and welcome those who don’t side with the party on every issue. The report, surprisingly blunt considering it comes from inside the RNC, says Republicans spend too much time talking to one another.
“Public perception of the party is at record lows,” the report states. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”
But the report’s 219 recommendations for changing the GOP include several ideas that already are being blasted by grassroots activists and social conservatives.
The report calls for Republicans to “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform” or risk shrinking to its core constituents: “If Hispanic-Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e., self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence.”
Authored by five members of the GOP establishment, the report tries to downplay social issues. It does not mention abortion, and it does not push for a public change in the party’s support of traditional marriage. But the report does argue that homosexual issues are causing the party to lose younger voters: “There is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays—and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be.”
But Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, fired back, saying deemphasizing social issues would alienate a crucial voting bloc.
“Social issues are keys to reaching certain minorities the GOP yearns to attract, as well as to motivate millions of voters who first gravitated to the party as Reagan Democrats,” said Dannenfelser, citing statistics showing that a majority of Americans do not support taxpayer-funded abortions.
In releasing the report, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said, “I think that we have to be a welcoming party. I think that we have to have a party that says, ‘If you want to support our party and you want to walk through that door, I don’t need to agree with you on every single issue.’”
The five-person committee behind the report included Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under former President George W. Bush; Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour, a nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; and Sally Bradshaw, an adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Before writing the report, the committee listened to more than 50,000 members of the GOP.
Priebus said the RNC would focus more on reaching out to voters on the ground and less on television advertisements in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. This spring the RNC will hire national political directors for Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, and African-American voters, and it will invest $10 million toward initial efforts to reach those voters by the end of the summer. The RNC also will work to upgrade its use of digital technology and social media to target supporters and get them to the polls. The superior voter database infrastructure used by President Obama’s campaign last year played a large role in his reelection victory.
The report also seeks to change the party’s primary and debate process. It calls for moving the GOP convention from August to late June or July, reducing by half the number of primary debates, and holding primaries in regional clusters instead of caucuses and conventions. Priebus said the intent would be to limit “the amount of slicing and dicing that goes on in our party” during the selection process.
Some argue that last year’s long primary season wounded Mitt Romney, the eventual GOP nominee, before he could take on Obama in the general election. But some are warning that such changes would be a knee-jerk reaction to an election loss in a year that the GOP already faced the uphill battle of running against an incumbent. In 2016, both parties will field challengers.
Opponents to the recommendations also fear that a shortened primary season would reward the well-funded establishment’s choice while making it harder for a grassroots-driven outsider to mount and sustain a challenge like former Sen. Rick Santorum did last year.
“The Republican consulting class is just plain wrong about how it approaches politics,” said Newt Gingrich, who also launched an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2012 by portraying himself as a Republican outsider.
The controversial report will provide new ammunition in the escalating battle between grassroots Republicans and the party’s entrenched old guard. Party insiders and consultants were a top villain at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The conference even included a panel titled, “Should We Shoot All the Consultants Now?”
“Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home, and toss the political scripts,” Sarah Palin told CPAC attendees, receiving a loud ovation, “because if we truly know what we believe, we don’t need professionals to tell us.”
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