After weeks of soul-searching following Mitt Romney’s bitter loss to President Barack Obama in last fall’s presidential election, Republicans say they are ready for change. In a surprisingly blunt document, the Republican National Committee released on Monday its post-mortem on the November election, which makes dozens of recommendations on how the party can improve its standing with voters.
The post-mortem is healthy. While the party has been successful in statehouses around the country, it has failed spectacularly in recent presidential elections —failing to win the popular vote in five of the last six. The country needs both political parties to be competitive on the national stage. That’s good for American democracy.
But Republican leadership seems to believe that its recent difficulties in national politics is mostly about marketing. It’s not. It’s mostly about ideas. The party has been unbending on a range of issues. Is it any wonder it has had a hard time wooing female voters with candidates such as Richard Mourdock or Todd Aiken? Or Latinos with candidates such as Romney who talk about self-deportation? It remains to be seen just how far the party is willing to move from entrenched positions.
The party report makes 219 recommendations including a $10 million marketing campaign aimed at women, minorities and gay Americans. The criticism is sometimes raw.
“There’s no one reason we lost,” GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said. “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.”
“The way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough,” he also said. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘out of touch’ and ‘stuffy old men.’ The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.”
Those perceptions, by the way, are based on reality. After all, the party did nominate a multimillionaire who repeatedly reminded voters of his wealth and was fundamentally unable to connect with ordinary people.
In its report, the Republican National Committee formally endorsed immigration reform over the objections of some die-hards. That’s the good news. “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” the report said.
The report also calls for Republicans 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 that we care about them, too.”
But even such an obvious change in position as embracing immigration reform will be hard for some conservatives to accept. Priebus wouldn’t say whether the party endorses a pathway to citizenship.
In a reference to immigration reform, conservative firebrand Ann Coulter told the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend: “If amnesty goes through, America becomes California and no Republican will ever win another national election.”
The report also calls on Republicans to “change our tone” on “certain social issues” to appeal to younger voters and gay Americans. But there are no recommendations for specific policies to do that. The continuing influence of the religious right within the party may make that a tall order, although certainly younger members of the party see the wisdom of backing away from such heavy-handed policies as the Defense of Marriage Act, which is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. And Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s announcement last week that he now supports gay marriage, a change in position that came after his son announced he was gay, may offer an opening.
The report also recommends cutting in half the number of candidate debates and shortening the primary season in 2016. Conventional wisdom holds that the long primary season left Romney wounded for the general election fight with Obama.
We have no idea if the broad majority of voters will buy what Priebus is selling, but we think the tough assessment is warranted. Republicans generally need to do more listening and be more willing to work with their opponents to find solutions.
As Priebus said: “This is an unprecedented thing, for a national party to put its cards on the table face up. Maybe a few pieces of china needed to be broken.”
Maybe so. Maybe, in fact, a few more pieces need to be broken.