RNC calls for major changes for GOP

theGRIO REPORT - Over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, it was at times difficult to tell the GOP is reeling from two straight presidential defeats...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, it was at times difficult to tell the GOP is reeling from two straight presidential defeats. Conservative activists cheered loudly as Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, the kind of polarizing figures the party must move beyond, blasted President Obama in familiar ways, and many of the policy ideas touted, like school vouchers, were ripped straight from the Republicans’ playbook of the 1990’s.

But in a detailed 100-page report released on Monday, the Republican National Committee, the group that officially runs the party’s national campaigns, acknowledged the obvious: The GOP must make major changes to win elections in the future. In what the RNC dubbed its “Growth and Opportunity Project,” it produced a long, comprehensive list of ideas addressing nearly every issue that has plagued Republicans the last two election cycles, calling for the hiring of dozens of new staffers to reach minority voters across the country, overhauls of the party’s polling and technology infrastructures, fewer presidential primary debates in the 2016 cycle to avoid long-shot candidates like Herman Cain turning the process into a the equivalent of a political reality show, less talk from party candidates about divisive issues like gay marriage, increased recruitment of minority and female candidates at all levels, and the use of rhetoric that appeals more to middle and low-income Americans.

The committee also recommended a few policy ideas, particularly Republicans embracing immigration reform, even though the RNC traditionally leaves policy-making to governors and legislators. And the report was so scathing at times in its descriptions of the party’s challenges that it sounded like a Democrat could have written it, openly noting that in focus groups voters cast the GOP as “scary,” “narrow-minded, “out of touch” and full “stuffy old men.”

“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,” the report concludes.

To be sure, the report avoided many issues. There was no mention of controversial “voter ID” laws that have angered African-Americans or some of the party’s stances on abortion and contraception, which are opposed by many female voters. While most leading Democrats now embrace gay marriage, as do most voters of both parties under age 30, the RNC simply said Republicans should speak about the issue in more inclusive terms. And the RNC was also largely silent about the party’s stances on taxes and spending and national security issues.

And some of its recommendations were ideas Republicans have unsuccessfully tried before. For example, the report calls for recruiting more African-American Republicans who can go on television and tout the party’s message. But Michael Steele, Artur Davis and a number of other black Republicans already have high television profiles while doing little to shift African-Americans long-standing support of Democrats.

“Establish a presence in African American communities and at black organizations such as the NAACP. We are never going to win over voters who are not asked for their support. Too many African American voters have gotten in the habit of supporting Democrats without hearing anyone in their community making a case to the contrary,” the report’s authors write, even though past GOP party chairs, including Steele, have built relationships with the NAACP that have not resulted in more black voters embracing the GOP.

But many of the ideas are almost certain to help Republicans. Party officials were surprised by the strength of Obama’s win, as their internal polling had suggested a closer race, so the RNC’s call for a review of the party’s polling operations is a logical first step. The hiring of a chief digital office for the committee, as the report urges, could help Republicans close a widely-acknowledged advantage Democrats have in using online programs to engage voters. The report also calls for Republicans to try to get more voters to cast ballots before Election Day, a strategy the Obama campaign used to great effectiveness in both 2008 and 2012.

But the biggest significance of this report is that it was completed and released at all. In conducing and touting these findings, Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, is rejecting the view of many in the party that Republicans have lost to Obama twice simply because John McCain and Mitt Romney were lackluster candidates.

He has put himself, and the official national party, firmly in the camp of people who argue the GOP must make broader changes to win in 2016.