GOP "autopsy" discussion thread (updated)

The Republican National Committee released a so-called "autopsy" on the 2012 election results today. You can read the full report on the "Growth and Opportunity Project" here. I've posted a few excerpts, links and thoughts after the jump.

Any comments about the GOP's rebuilding and rebranding effort are welcome in this thread.

The first part of the report lays out the Republican Party's demographic and messaging problems. It then presents various successful Republican governors as showing "the way forward." The document then lays out a path to improve its standing among growing demographic groups:

The Republican Party must focus its efforts to earn new supporters and voters in the following demographic communities: Hispanic, Asian and Pacifc Islanders, African Americans, Indian Americans, Native Americans, women, and youth. This priority needs to be a continual effort that affects every facet of our Party's activities, including our messaging, strategy, outreach, and budget.

The RNC plans to spend $10 million on outreach to those groups. RNC Chair Reince Priebus promised today that the party will start working on this project in 2013 and will not let up before the next presidential election. The document also calls for advocating "positive solutions on immigration," as a gateway for appealing to Latinos on other issues.

The "elephant in the room" here is that comprehensive immigration reform is anathema to most elected Republican officials and candidates, even though it is important to unaffiliated Latino voters. I would be shocked if the U.S. House approved any bill that included a path to citizenship or even legal residency for undocumented immigrants.

But that's only part of the problem. Multiple surveys have shown that Latino voters support tax increases on the wealthy as part of any deficit reduction package. That's not just true for Latino Democrats, but also for the vast majority of Latino independents across the country. Even Latinos who describe themselves as born-again Christians rather than Catholics "support raising taxes on the wealthy as part of a deficit plan."

Meanwhile, Republican politicians are stuck on cutting non-defense domestic spending and entitlements, rejecting any further tax increases.

GOP orthodoxy on various issues is off-putting to African-Americans, women, and young people. Better outreach won't solve that problem. The U.S. Supreme Court may open an escape hatch for the party on gay marriage, but that won't change Republican candidates' position on affirmative action, equal pay for women, or access to contraception.

The "autopsy" emphasizes the need to improve the GOP's "campaign mechanics (databases, voter contacts, new voter registration, polling, etc.). Focusing more on early GOTV and getting field staff on the ground sooner is bound to help Republican candidates. But there's little sign that those candidates are ready to adapt their policy stands, or that GOP primary voters are ready to embrace more moderate candidates.

Despite the problems identified in the autopsy, the 2014 midterm elections could be good for the GOP. The party is very likely to retain control of the U.S. House, in part thanks to gerrymandering. Republicans could make big gains in the U.S. Senate, depending on the outcome of several GOP nominating contests. Republicans may also continue to control a majority of governorships.

If that happens, conservatives may take the complacent view that the last two presidential elections were an aberration because of Barack Obama's appeal and amazing campaign infrastructure.

The RNC document proposes several changes before 2016, including fewer primary debates for presidential candidates. But Bill Scher pointed out today,

As the report mentioned, the Republican presidential candidates participated in 21 debates during the 2008 campaign, and 20 in the 2012 campaign.

But the report does not mention that the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries featured 26 debates.

So it's not the number of the debates. It's what gets said at the debates.

The next presidential campaign is likely to feature lots of right-wing heroes: Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, former Senator Rick Santorum, Governor Bobby Jindal, and possibly also Governor Scott Walker and Representative Paul Ryan. Even if that group only debates a handful of times, you can count on plenty of "out there" sound bites emerging.

Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman reported today that some conservatives are outraged by what they see as a "power grab" by the establishment.

Tucked in near the end of the 97-page report, formally known as The Growth and Opportunity Project, are less than four pages that amount to a political bombshell: the five-member panel urges halving the number of presidential primary debates in 2016 from 2012, creating a regional primary cluster after the traditional early states and holding primaries rather than caucuses or conventions.

Each of those steps would benefit a deep-pocketed candidate in the mold of Mitt Romney. [...]

The recommendations are also a nod to the party's donor class. Several donors bluntly told RNC Chair Reince Priebus at meetings right after the election that they wanted Iowa, with its more conservative base, to have less of a role in the process.

Reaction was swift. Allies of potential 2016 hopefuls Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum, sensing a power play by the establishment-dominated panel, reacted angrily to recommendations they think are aimed at hurting candidates who do well in caucuses and conventions and need debates to get attention.

"Caucuses give you a better glimpse of what the base of the party wants," said Iowa GOP Chair A.J. Spiker, who hails from the Paul wing of the party. "And those people, they aren't going to be swayed as easily by television ads as a primary voter. They're a more politically educated voter."

Spiker added that an "attempt to get rid of that is really an attempt to get rid of what the base of the party wants. I think RNC membership would object to that too."

UPDATE: The Iowa GOP doesn't think much of the autopsy. Note the air quotes:

Iowa GOP on "autopsy" (2) photo Screenshot2013-03-18at73045PM_zps1763feab.png

Iowa GOP on "autopsy" photo Screenshot2013-03-18at73211PM_zps32047e5f.png

I haven't seen any reaction to this report yet from Representative Steve King (IA-04), but in his speech to the CPAC conference over the weekend, King took a swipe at "rebranding" efforts.

"There are some people within our movement that want to rebrand the Republican Party," King said Saturday. "Now, they may succeed in doing that, but they're never going to rebrand us conservatives."

King made his comments this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. King vowed to leave the event "like a rocket" to challenge the Republican Party to do more to promote traditional marriage and to "protect innocent, unborn life."

"I look at the agenda that's been coming out of congress recently and it seems to me to be a hollow agenda," King said. "There's a lot more to this country than buy, sell, trade, make, gain. Yes, economics are important and, yes, free enterprise capitalism is a pillar of American exceptionalism, but it isn't the central point. It isn't the sole point." [...]

"The thing that a bunch of people that have been backing away from these challenges don't seem to realize is I'm still standing," King said. "Now, why is that? I didn't run a campaign on 'jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy' and beat that drum until I beat people into sleep. That's part of it all right, but all of the rest of this has to be added together or we can never reconstruct this country."

SECOND UPDATE: Craig Robinson commented at The Iowa Republican,

The RNC report offers more than 200 solutions to the problems that the GOP experienced in 2012, but in reality, Priebus is only offering Republicans one solution - a larger, more expensive, more controlling RNC in future campaigns.  The 100-page RNC missive seeks to regulate outside groups, have complete say over every detail of presidential debates, and it advocates for the presidential primary calendar to be condensed and its contest regionalized. [...]

Reining in the number of debates and regulating the timing of them is an honorable goal, but how the RNC plans to force news agencies and candidates to comply with their wishes is anyone's guess.

To understand this, one only needs to look at what happened in Iowa in 2007.  ABC News held a presidential debate in August against the wishes of the Republican Party of Iowa.  The candidates choose to participate and the debate was held at Drake University.  Later that year, a Republican Party of Iowa Debate with Fox News was canceled because the candidates didn't want to participate, opting to instead participate in a new debate with the Des Moines Register.

The point is simple.  It is the presidential candidates, not state party committees, the RNC, or even the news organization hosting the debate who determine what debates will actually happen.  Campaigns will always do what's best for their campaign, regardless of whether or not the debate is sanctioned by the RNC.

Josh Barro of Bloomberg News commented, "The patient is dead but the cororner doesn't understand why." Excerpt from Barro's piece on the GOP's "empathy gap":

The Republican National Committee's recent report on fixing the party runs 100 pages, but if you want to know why the report fails, all you need to see is this statement on Page 5: "We are the Party of private-sector economic growth because that is the best way to create jobs and opportunity. That is the best way to help people earn an income, achieve success and take care of their families."

There are two flawed and unaddressed assumptions in that statement. One is that Republican policies create more private sector economic growth than Democratic policies, an outcome we haven't observed in recent decades. The other is that economic growth will flow through effectively to rising standards of living, even though since the 1970s gross domestic product growth has strongly outpaced wage growth. [...]

Conservatives have been badly disserved by their side's health-policy experts, who have misled them into believing that they have a health plan that would lead to universal coverage and cost reductions. (The public has correctly observed the Republicans as simply being obstinately opposed to health reform.) Many were misled by the Mitt Romney campaign into believing that it is possible to sharply cut tax rates on the rich without losing revenue or raising taxes on the middle class.

But partly it's a failure of empathy. I really do mean empathy, not sympathy. Conservative elites are aware that poor people exist and genuinely want them to become wealthier. They are just completely failing to put themselves in the shoes of the poor or even the middle class and understand what they would actually find helpful, in the way they can understand that unauthorized immigrants would like to become citizens and gay people would like to get married. They fixate on distortions and costs created by Obamacare and don't even pause to think about why someone would value a guarantee of affordable health coverage.

  • Regarding "minority outreach"

    The most important thing from Pribus' presser on the "rebranding" on the minority "outreach" issue was what he didn't say in responding to a question about the CPAC diversity panel dominated by white supremacists.

    He was asked to respond to what happened there, and from the perspective of people of color, it was a softball.  All he had to do was condemn them as racist, as a few individuals unrepresentative of GOP thinking and attitudes, and emphasize those sentiments are unwelcome in the GOP.  And show some sincerity in saying all that, act like you mean it, that those people made you mad.

    Which goes to the heart of my point:  you learn a lot about somebody by what makes them mad.

    Preibus dodged the CPAC panel question and tried to answer vaguely on diversity on his own terms.

    That doesn't cut it.

    For me as a man of color, if you want to reach me, you have to reach me on my terms, not yours...which is the same as every voter, white or otherwise, demands to be reached.

    And when you're offered a softball like Preibus got at the presser today, you better hit it out of the park.

    What Preibus showed was no surprise because his reaction was the same as how GOPers always react:  fearful of calling out racism among conservatives or Republicans, and refusing to call it out at all.  This reveals that they continue to embrace these people because they must for their coalition, because they are too many to jettison and survive as a party.  That's the calculation Republicans have made for my entire 45-year old life.

    This is a fatal problem for the GOP and closes off all outreach efforts right up front.  That's always been true, but they never cared and it never mattered because they had a majority coalition without 80% of minorities.  Now that math no longer works for them, and they're stuck.  But they're going to have to get honest if they expect to even begin to have any chance of a recovery with people of color.

    • we're in the same age cohort

      When I think back to the mid- and late 1980s, when Republicans seemed like brilliant strategists and I wondered whether a Democrat would ever be elected president again, it's mind-blowing to think of the predicament the GOP is in now. It still makes me sick to think that Jesse Helms got away with the "Hands" ad and all the racist code language, but at least the party is paying the price for it today.

      I did not catch that part of the Priebus press conference. I agree with you, it's telling that he is afraid to call them out.

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