Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, has been pushing what he calls an “autopsy” of the GOP in the aftermath of its fifth popular-vote defeat in the last six presidential elections.
The autopsy was released this morning, and Priebus and his colleagues deserve a great deal of credit for candor in acknowledging the party’s problems and what it will take to correct them.
Boiled to its essence, the message is “Let’s join the 21st century.” In fact, much of the report will be familiar to those who read this blog on a regular basis. Here’s a quick digest, divided by subheads:
“Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. States in which our presidential candidates used to win, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida, are increasingly voting Democratic. We are losing in too many places….
Public perception of the Party is at record lows. 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….”
THE GOP’S ‘BRAND’ STINKS
“As part of the Growth and Opportunity Project’s effort, focus groups were conducted in Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa, to listen to voters who used to consider themselves Republicans. These are voters who recently left the Party.
Asked to describe Republicans, they said that the Party is “scary,” “narrow minded,” and “out of touch” and that we were a Party of “stuffy old men.” This is consistent with the findings of other post-election surveys.”
THE ‘GRAY OLD PARTY’
“At our core, Republicans have comfortably remained the Party of Reagan without figuring out what comes next. Ronald Reagan is a Republican hero and role model who was first elected 33 years ago — meaning no one under the age of 51 today was old enough to vote for Reagan when he first ran for President. Our Party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch.
As Mike Gerson and Pete Wehner wrote recently, “It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the Party more than 30 years ago. For Republicans to design an agenda that applies to the conditions of 1980 is as if Ronald Reagan designed his agenda for conditions that existed in the Truman years.”
BLOW UP THE ECHO CHAMBER
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. 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.
Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America’s conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism.”
STOP WITH THE ‘47 PERCENT’ MENTALITY
“The Republican Party must be the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder of life. Low-income Americans are hardworking people who want to become hard-working middle-income Americans. Middle-income Americans want to become upper-middle-income, and so on. We need to help everyone make it in America.
We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. 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.”
DIVERSITY DIVERSITY DIVERSITY
… DID WE MENTION DIVERSITY?
“If we believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people, all the American people, our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms and we need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case. We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters….
In both 2008 and 2012, President Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority voters, including not only African Americans but also Hispanics, Asians, and others. The minority groups that President Obama carried with 80 percent of the vote in 2012 are on track to become a majority of the nation’s population by 2050.
Today these minority groups make up 37 percent of the population, and they cast a record 28 percent of the votes in the 2012 presidential election, according to the election exit polls, an increase of 2 percentage points from 2008.
The pervasive mentality of writing off blocks of states or demographic votes for the Republican Party must be completely forgotten. The Republican Party must compete on every playing field.”
COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM A MUST
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. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies….
As one conservative, Tea Party leader Dick Armey, told us, “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you. We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home.”
We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
THE PARTY HAS TURNED OFF A GENERATION
“Younger voters are increasingly put off by the GOP. A post-election survey of voters ages 18-29 in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado found that Republicans have an almost 1:2 favorable/unfavorable rating. Democrats have an almost 2:1 favorable rating….
The RNC must recognize that today’s young voters will be voters for the next 50-plus years. For many of the youngest voters and new 2016 voters, their perception of the two parties was born during the Barack Obama era, and that perception will help determine their worldview moving forward. The Party is seen as old and detached from pop culture. The RNC needs to make immediate efforts to reverse this narrative…
On messaging, we must change our tone — especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters.”
STOP TALKING LIKE HATEFUL FOOLS
“Throughout our discussions with various Hispanic groups, they told us this: Message matters. Too often Republican elected officials spoke about issues important to the Hispanic community using a tone that undermined the GOP brand within Hispanic communities. Repairing that relationship will require both a tone that “welcomes in” as well as substantial time spent in the community demonstrating a commitment to addressing its unique concerns.
The Republican Party is one of tolerance and respect, and we need to ensure that the tone of our message is always reflective of these core principles. In the modern media environment, a poorly phrased argument or out-of-context statement can spiral out of control and reflect poorly on the Party as a whole. Thus we must emphasize during candidate trainings, retreats, etc., the importance of a welcoming, inclusive message in particular when discussing issues that relate directly to a minority group. This includes flexibility for allowing candidates to run as Republicans who may break with the Party on certain issues, whether economic or social.”
“GROUPTHINK IS A LOSER”
“Peggy Noonan recently wrote about how our Party has stifled debate and how groupthink has taken over. She quoted Joe Scarborough saying, “Everybody’s afraid to talk.” She then related that in 1994 the Republican Party “was alive with ideas: John Kasich on the budget, Jack Kemp on taxes, John Engler on welfare reform, Tommy Thompson on crime control. This was the bubble and fizz of a movement at its height.”
Third-party groups that promote purity are hurting our electoral prospects. As Noonan quoted Scarborough again, “The national conversation is more constricted, with radio stars, websites and magazines functioning as unofficial arbiters and limiters of domestic and foreign policy debate.”
The weakest section of the report deals with the problems with female voters. It acknowledges that President Obama outperformed Mitt Romney by 11 percentage points, and recommends addressing that shortcoming by steps such as “implement(ing) training programs for messaging, communications, and recruiting that address the best ways to communicate with women.” It does not address the reality that many of the party’s problems with women voters can be traced directly to policies that stand at the GOP’s ideological core.
The report also delves deeply into more technical matters, among other things advising that the party allow fewer presidential debates, adopt a more compressed primary schedule and invest much more heavily in technology, citing the Obama campaign as its model.
Changes of that professional sort, while certainly necessary, will be far easier to implement and in the end less important than the changes in message, policy and outlook outlined above. As the Priebus report makes clear, the modern Republican Party has a serious and self-inflicted identity problem. Over the past 40 years, it has consciously designed and defined itself as the vessel for the fears, hopes, biases and dreams of a specific subset of Americans, and in pursuing that mission it has closed itself off from the technological, demographic and social changes that have redefined the rest of the country.
That approach has run its natural course and is no longer sustainable.
– Jay Bookman