The Republican National Committee has released its “autopsy” on the 2012 election and outline of how to win future federal elections, and it appears to pull no punches. But I have a bone to pick with the way it is being reported, for instance by the Associated Press story linked by my AJC colleague Jim Galloway:
In calling for the GOP to develop “a more welcoming conservatism,” the report rebukes those who remain in denial about the seriousness of the problem and those who are unwilling to broaden the party’s appeal.
A just-concluded gathering of conservatives in Washington cheered speaker after speaker who urged the GOP to stick to its guns and, instead, largely blamed the 2012 defeat on Romney or the way he ran his campaign.
I don’t know whether the AP reporter was at CPAC, the “just-concluded gathering” to which the story referred, and which I attended. But that second paragraph, in my view, completely misrepresents the take-away from the conference.
To say the attendees “cheered speaker after speaker who urged the GOP to stick to its guns” is about a gross a generalization as I can think of. What does it mean? That the attendees want the GOP to ignore the kind of reforms mentioned in the report? That none of the speakers, or at least none of the ones who were “cheered,” urged any changes?
Nonsense. Utter and complete nonsense.
The winner of the CPAC straw poll for possible 2016 presidential candidates was Sen. Rand Paul, who said the GOP had grown “stale and moss-covered,” voiced support for “liberty in both the economic and personal sphere” and specifically referred to the distaste the “Facebook generation” has for jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Is that sticking to one’s guns?
Or how about the loud cheers for Sen. Marco Rubio, who finished second to Paul in the straw poll and has been one of the most prominent Republicans working on the kind of “comprehensive immigration reform” the authors of the RNC report suggested? Or the fact that the members of the most prominent panel on immigration at CPAC scarcely considered the possibility of not reforming immigration in a way that includes offering legal status for most of the illegal immigrants already present in the U.S.? Is that sticking to one’s guns?
It wasn’t the lack of minority outreach — which nearly every possible presidential contender mentioned, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush perhaps hitting the point hardest — to which CPAC speakers and attendees were clinging. Indeed, the person who gained the most stature in the conservative movement from his CPAC appearance was probably Benjamin Carson, a black neurosurgeon from Maryland (you may have heard his recent speech at the National Prayer Breakfast) who spoke eloquently and forcefully, drawing extended ovations when he hinted at wanting to run for office soon.
It wasn’t an obsession with debts and deficits, which Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal knocked in his speech. Nor was it coziness with Big Business, which most of the aspiring candidates said the GOP must jettison.
I don’t mean to pick on the AP reporter, but such generalizations only feed the idea that conservative activists are hostile to the kinds of reforms the RNC report urges. In fact, one of my earlier blog posts from CPAC described the debate about consultants’ role in torpedoing GOP electoral chances as the one with “the most passionate disagreements” because there was hardly any disagreement about the need to make the other changes mentioned above.
Perhaps the speakers got preview copies of the report and took their cues from it. Certainly, their words last week were only that — words, still to be confirmed by actions. (The same holds true, let’s note, for the RNC report.) Obviously, the GOP since 1992 has experienced the same record of string of presidential-election difficulties the Democrats faced from 1968 through 1988, and it has to change the way it approaches the electorate in some key ways.
But the good news, if you want to see Republicans elected, is that some of the party’s brightest emerging stars are already staking out ground that moves in the direction of change. This necessary process has already begun.
– By Kyle Wingfield