Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, presented a report yesterday on why the Republicans got whipped last November and what they have to do to fix the situation. The report was uncompromising and extremely critical. Priebus fully endorsed it, although it will set off a civil war within the party.
When releasing the report, Priebus said: "There's no one reason we lost. 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." In other words, the nomination process needs fixing, the data bases have to be improved, and more boots are need on the ground to get voters to the polls. What he didn't say is even more interesting than what he said. There was no suggestion that maybe the core problem is that the voters don't like what the GOP has to sell.
The report has many specific recommendations. Some of the major ones are discussed below.
Change the nomination process. The report argues for shortening the presidential nomination process by holding the Republican National Convention in June or July instead of late summer. It also argues for fewer debates and giving the party more control over the debates, including letting it pick the moderators. It also suggests having regional primaries, with multiple neighboring states voting on the same day. This is probably the least controversial proposal, but it has a number of consequences, some good for the party and some bad. An early convention means that federal campaign funds would be released earlier--unless the nominee chooses to turn down federal funding. An early nomination does not necessarily lead to victory, as John Kerry, who was nominated in July 2004, discovered. Regional primaries greatly favor wealthy candidates, since having to campaign in a dozen states at once means you need a huge ad budget. if the goal is to avoid nominating the next Romney, this isn't the way to do it. Unspoken here is the fact that a long primary season--with Republicans saying the kinds of things they need to say to get the nomination--is a bad thing because it is precisely these things that repel general election voters. The quicker the primaries are over, the quicker the nominee stops throwing red meat to the base and the quicker he can target independents.
Support gay rights. The report doesn't come out and say point blank that Republicans should support gay marriage, but it is no secret that younger Republican voters, consultants, and even elected officials want to get rid of this issue, which greatly favors the Democrats now. A Washington Post poll released yesterday shows that 58% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, with the greatest support among young people. The point here is not that the gay voting block is so large, but that the Republicans are seen by many voters as intolerant. Changing that perception will be very difficult, however, as many evangelicals and many conservatives consider homosexuality fundamentally immoral and unacceptable. This is definitely going to be a fiery issue and it won't go away quickly.
Pass an immigration bill. Priebus understands the demographics of America very well. In 2016, it is expected that over 30% of the electorate will consist of blacks, Asian-Americans, and Latinos. The latter two groups care about immigration a lot and see the Republicans as the enemy. The whole issue is a millstone around the party's neck. But the only way to get rid of it once and for all is to have Republicans overwhelmingly support a bill that allows illegal immigrants to become citizens in due course. Many Republicans call this amnesty and are violently opposed to it. However, if the Democrats push an immigration reform bill through the Senate and it is killed by the GOP-led House, many of the legal immigrants who are now citizens (and voters) will summarize this as: "Republicans hate us." The worst of all possible worlds for the Republicans is for a Democratic bill to barely pass the House, with most Republicans voting against it. When the immigrants eventually become citizens, they are not likely to forget who was on which side, nor will their citizen relatives. The only way to defuse the situation is for the Republican Party to wholeheartedly endorse citizenship for the 12 million illegal aliens already in the country and then try to take credit for it. But Rush Limbaugh will make sure that won't happen.
Reach out to minorities. The report advocates spending $10 million on staff to go into minority communities and tell them what Republicans believe in. But the problem is that many of them already know what Republicans want: lower taxes for the rich and less government assistance for the poor, and they don't like it. With Asian Americans, the Republicans have a different problem. Asian Americans have been incredibly successful. About 40% of the students at Caltech and 30% of the students at M.I.T. are Asian Americans. The Asian-American community is not so interested in government programs that help the poor, but it is appalled by the Republicans' rejection of science. Unlike Rick Santorum and many "young earthers" they don't see the Flintstones series as documentaries: people didn't ride dinosaurs. Whether the topic is female reproductive biology, climate change, or evolution, Republicans are seen as antiscience, and that is a fatal position with a demographic group that is wildly successful in science and engineering.
Get out of the bubble. Many Republicans were shocked that Romney lost, as all their pundits and pollsters were predicting his victory, despite the clear consensus of the reality community that Obama would win. This site predicted Obama would lose Florida and get 303 electoral votes. He won Florida and got 332. Nate Silver of the New York Times did even better: he called every state correctly. In contrast, nearly every Republican pundit got it wrong, with Dick Morris being the worst of all, predicting a Romney landslide of 325 electoral votes. The report tells Republicans to get out of their comfort zone and listen to people whose conclusions they may not like, but who may be right.
Stop being the party of the rich. For better or worse, the report concludes that many voters see the Republican Party as being concerned only with helping the rich. Having a candidate worth $250 million as the nominee certainly didn't help, but regional primaries are only going to make the situation worse, with very wealthy candidates flooding the airwaves early on and drowning out less well-heeled contenders. But it is hard to change the image when in reality, the one thing Republicans are adamantly against is higher taxes on the rich, something a large majority of the country wants. Here, as in some other areas, the problem is not the messaging. People know what Republicans stand for. They just don't like it.
While part of the report addresses technical issues, like when the convention should be and the Republicans' need for better databases, the bottom line is that tea party adherents and conservatives in general should tone it down considerably so the GOP can win elections. The trouble is many of these people see themselves as part of a movement whose mission is in direct contradiction to what the report says, such as never allowing gays to marry and never granting illegal aliens amnesty. Their goal is not electing Republicans; it is achieving specific policy goals. To them, a Republican like Sen. Rob Portman (RINO-OH), who now supports same-sex marriage because his son is gay, is no better than a Democrat and should be defeated. Quite a few speakers at last week's CPAC conference, including Sarah Palin, made this abundantly clear. In the weeks ahead, expect talk radio and conservative news media in general, to go after the report with pitchforks. For example, at redstate.com, a front-page article says there is nothing wrong with the Republicans' policies. What is needed is to replace Speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell with real conservatives. It is not clear how many of the report's recommendations will ultimately be followed, but a battle about them is a certainty.