Republican Soul Searching Could Reboot the GOP
Business + Economy

Republican Soul Searching Could Reboot the GOP

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

On the heels of a pugnacious “business as usual” Conservative Political Action Conference, Republicans have stripped the paint off the looking glass and they don’t like what they see.

In a searing self-examination of its major flaws, the national Republican Party issued a 100-page report on Monday saying the GOP is woefully out of step with the rest of the country.  It says the party is doomed to secondary status without a major outreach to Hispanic, Asian and young voters and a substantial upgrade of its technical prowess in running campaigns.

The GOP taskforce report, issued this morning by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus, declares, among other things, that “Public perception of the party is at record lows,” young voters are “increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents,” and minorities think Republicans don’t like them. 

In a series of focus groups conducted by the party, some voters who had abandoned the party described the GOP as "scary," "narrow minded," "out of touch," and a party of "stuffy, old men."  Moreover, the Democratic digital voter identification and grassroots turnout effort is far superior to that of the Republicans.

Without a sea change in party outlook, strategy and technology, the report warned, “It will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.” The report recommended a $10 million expenditure to begin a bottom-up outreach effort to minority communities including the hiring of national political directors for Hispanic, Asian-Pacific and African American voters.

The blockbuster report comes in the wake of President Obama’s surprisingly strong victory over Republican nominee Mitt Romney and the Republicans’ dismal performance in Senate and House races last November. Republicans have now lost the popular vote in the last six presidential elections. States in which GOP presidential candidates  used to win, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada ,Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Florida, are increasingly voting  Democratic, the report noted.

By contrast,  Republican gubernatorial candidates  have  had smashing success in recent years in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and other states,   highlighting a major disconnect between the tactics of GOP candidates at the state and federal levels.

“At our core, Republicans have comfortably remained the Party of Reagan without figuring out what comes next,” the report stated.  “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 is the latest and most brutally honest salvo in months of soul searching by leaders and activists in a party strongly aligned with the Tea Party and insurgent candidates who are arguing that conservatives should reject the advice of party insiders and consultants.

There is a growing cleft in the party between far right conservatives and libertarians on the one hand who favor  much smaller government and defense spending and an unyielding stand against softening immigration laws, and  those who advocate greater outreach to the middle class and younger people, a more moderate course on spending and taxes and immigration reform that would win back support from the Hispanic community.

But the report also represents the first time Republicans have acknowledged just how far behind they are in winning a modern election.


Impairing Republican success on the national stage is its failure to replicate state-level successes. The taskforce found disconnect between the actions and rhetoric of Republicans in the states, who acknowledge the importance of the role of government in people’s lives—think Chris Christie--and Republicans in Washington, where the GOP refuses to recognize the importance of some entitlement programs. At the same time, they often vilify those who participate in those programs, pushing away more potential voters.

Over the weekend, freshman Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a libertarian who is leading the charge for smaller government and a diminished military presence overseas, fired up participants at a Conservative Political Action Conference gathering by declaring, “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered” and conservatives must chart a new course.  Others, including freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are strong advocates of immigration reform that would provide illegal immigrants with a long-term path to citizenship. And they question whether the party really needs a new set of principles and a starkly different path back to prominence. 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged conservatives at the CPAC conference to end their post-election hand wringing and self-examination and start preparing for the next election.  “If you get your tail whipped, you don’t cry about it or look for someone to blame,” McConnell said. “You punch back.”

But the new RNC report leaves little doubt that profound changes will be necessary if the Republicans have any hope of regaining control of the White House and Congress in the near future.

“There’s no one reason we lost,” Priebus said at a Monday morning breakfast in assessing the outcome of the November election. “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.”
Priebus said the report had to be “bold,” “raw,” and “real” — and had to be public — to have the desired impact. “This is an unprecedented thing, for a national party to put its cards on the table face up,” he said at the National Press Club. “Maybe a few pieces of china needed to be broken.”