In the new "autopsy" report, (called the "Growth and Opportunity Report) is out! Re-published by Politico, the GOP outlines what they need to do to get out of their rut of losing presidential elections. Highlights: endorsing comprehensive immigration reform, a $10 million outreach effort for minority communities, reforming its digital operations and making the GOP presidential primary process shorter and having their nominating convention sooner.
Because this report is long and you probably don't want to read it, I'm going to break it down for you with some highlights and commentary. Giving you only what you need to know about what the GOP thinks it's doing wrong to get your vote.
1. "Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism."
In the opening of this manifesto, this was the last and most important line. Sure, there was a lot of jibber jabber about how they've lost four out of the last six presidential elections and how they're got plenty governors (30), but are losing on the federal level. But this is the line that got to me. "Welcoming conservatism." Where have I heard this before? There's this tendency in the GOP to think messaging and branding are the issue rather than no one likes the 30 year old product they're selling. (Tax cuts for rich! Close your legs, ladies!) This is also mentioned in the report in this particularly brutal passage about the GOP's Ronald Reagan addiction:
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 overall theme of this opening chapter is how the GOP at the federal level needs to learn from the GOP at the state level, where many blue states have Republican governors, like Chris Christie in New Jersey. Of course, these blue state, red governors are governing blue states, which brings us back to how this report is all about getting the GOP to "give up" on conservative purity and preaching to the choir and "welcoming" right-leaning folks who don't scare gays, people of color and women.
Can they do it?
2. "One of the contributors to this problem (the perception that Republicans don't care) is that while Democrats tend to talk about people, Republicans tend to talk about policy."
The GOP sometimes seems to only care about "job creators," and damned the people who have to work for these job creators if they can actually get a job. It makes them all sound like a bunch of Ebenezer Scrooges, beating a nation of Tiny Tims with their canes. Not cute. So how do you marry your love of corporate growth with not being openly hostile to poor and struggling people?
We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.
Yeah! We should say something when bad things happen. Not be silent. But what about that do something?
There some quotes from Marco Rubio and others about how people, essentially, need the government at times for a hand up, not a hand out and it's wrong to demonize poor and unemployed people. But this chapter focuses on branding and how they speak about their pro-business policy, not-so-much about adjusting that policy to help people.
If we believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people, all the American people, our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms and we need 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 we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.
But then, again, no policy changes are listed. Just more talk about not sounding like bookkeepers and being what they might as well call "kinder, gentler conservatives." It sounds like the GOP brass want to send the whole party to sensitivity training so they can stop talking down, around and through people who haven't voted for them lately.
3. "America is changing demographically, and unless Republicans are able to grow our appeal the way GOP governors have done, the changes tilt the playing field even more in the Democratic direction."
Now we're at the good ol' chapter about reaching out to societies "undesirables," that huge Democratic voting block of black folks, brown folks, Asian folks, queer folks, women folks, just plain folks who are like, "I won't even date a Republican" or tell their kids "Don't bring a Republican home." Yeah, those voters are a touch hostile thanks to all those "Spanish is the language of the ghetto" and "rape is a form of conception" comments. What to do? What to do?
In the report, the authors recommend the party embracing "comprehensive immigration reform" and to stop sounding so "intolerant." Basically, again, be more sensitive about the language they use.
As one conservative, Tea-Party leader, Dick Armey, told us, “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you. We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home.”
Beyond that, the authors recommend the GOP create a "Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council" to figure out how to talk to black and brown people more nicely and how to utilize grassroots efforts to gain a foothold in minority land.
But they admit, they've got a lot of fixing to do. Especially with how they talk (again with the talking!) to Hispanics:
If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.
Throughout our discussions with various Hispanic groups, they told us this: Message matters. Too often Republican elected officials spoke about issues important to the Hispanic community using a tone that undermined the GOP brand within Hispanic communities. Repairing that relationship will require both a tone that “welcomes in” as well as substantial time spent in the community demonstrating a commitment to addressing its unique concerns. As one participant in a regional listening session noted, “The key problem is that the Republican Party’s message offends too many people unnecessarily. We win the economic message, which is the most important to voters, but we then lose them when we discuss other issues.”
The report recommends that the GOP, flat out, hire more Hispanics to work campaigns, to work for politicians, to work as political operatives, etc. This is the first suggestion that makes sense to me. If people think you hate Hispanics, but you actually start hiring them and welcoming them to participate in your political process that might actually help ... a little.
ON ASIAN AMERICANS
The report has similar talk for Asian Americans -- hire them, support their potential candidates, actually try to talk to them and not do it in an annoying or dismissive way.
ON BLACK AMERICANS
Now with Black Americans (naturally) it gets interesting. Along with suggesting the GOP hire more blacks, they also talk about having a presence in black organizations like the NAACP, engage black people on historically black college campuses and give us all a nice history lesson about how once upon a time, black people were Republicans (until FDR came around and lasted four terms). Basically, they want to diversify the political opinion of historic black institutions and communities by getting involved and getting more black Republicans to join in these activities.
The African American community has a lot in common with the Republican Party, and it is important to share this rich history. More importantly, the Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.
Mmmm. Caring. While the history lesson might work on someone (I don't know who, let me know if it works on you), I still feel like a lot of folks are going to start singing classic Janet Jackson, talkin' bout "What have you done for me lately?" I mean, I don't remember slavery because I was born in the 1970s, so Lincoln chatter doesn't move me. Maybe if the party started sounding more like old GOPers Jack Kemp and John Danforth and offering up some policies that appeal to black people they'd have more success. But a history lesson is going to get you some eye rolls.
The report says the GOP needs to promote more women to higher positions in politics and within the party ranks. Again, this makes sense. If you have a lady problem (or the perception of a lady problem) you need to throw a few more ladies at it, preferably ones who don't sound like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, but sound like they have some natural born sense. Your Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe types come to mind.
Naturally, there's still a lot of talk about language, messaging and pushing back against the Democrats saying the GOP has a "War on Women." Of course, to beat back that stereotype they'd have to do something about these conservative elected officials who keep opening their mouths and saying things about rape.
Overall, the report has some good/interesting information, but will the fringey rank-and-file who desire a "true conservative" candidate and only listen to FOX News be open to all this "Go to NAACP and make friends" chit chat? That remains to be seen. I believe that the GOP still hasn't lost badly enough to force a change. Plus, "angry old white voters who hate change" need a place to go and they've done so well in cultivating that shrinking, but still large block. If they reach out too much they risk losing their base for incremental gains that might not have any real, substantial growth for a decade.
So, will the GOP change or double down on their base?
Only time, and another election cycle, will tell.