President Obama’s campaign staff boasted throughout the 2012 race that the GOP’s dismissal of minority concerns, intolerance towards gays, celebration of wealth, and fetishism of Ronald Reagan would doom them in November. Today the RNC released their official response: “You were right.”
If you watched the Republican primaries and Mitt Romney’s general election campaign last year, the findings from the RNC’s study on why they lost the election are stunning. They’re the kinds of things that would have gotten you thrown out of the room in a GOP debate. They don’t come lightly either: The report was based on interviews with over 2,600 people as well as individual focus groups and polls with demographics like Hispanic voters and former Republicans. It was authored by Henry Barbour, Sally Bradshaw, Ari Fleischer, Zori Fonalledas, and Glenn McCall.
We gathered a few of the highlights from the RNC’s conclusions.
1. Pass Immigration Reform Yesterday
Normally the RNC’s focus is more on infrastructure and staff than policy, which is left to politicians to chart. But the party’s standing with Latino voters has gotten so dangerously low that the RNC’s report openly begs Republicans to change their position in defiance of the party’s own 2012 platform.
“We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, must be to embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” the report read. “If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”
There’s also a dig at Romney and his hardline position on immigration in a section referencing one of his most famous lines. Per the report: “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence.”
It’s worth stopping a moment to recognize what a huge leap this simple statement represents. The GOP platform, approved last August, rails against “amnesty,” demands “double-layered fencing” along the border, says that “state efforts to reduce illegal immigration must be encouraged,” pledges to “create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily” (i.e. self-deportation), and declares that “federal funding should be denied to universities that provide in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens.”
2. Listen To Minorities
Much of the report is about encouraging Republicans to listen not just to Republican minorities, but to reach out to black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters in their own communities. The reason: arithmetic.
“By the year 2050 we’ll be a majority-minority country and in both 2008 and 2012 President Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority groups,” RNC chair Reince Priebus said in a press conference debuting the report. “The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic or community or region of this country.”
Minority outreach doesn’t always come naturally to the party. Priebus was asked about a panel on race on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that turned into a debacle as the audience heard from whites sympathetic to slavery and tea party participants shouted down a liberal black woman offended by the event.
Priebus recommended that the RNC regularly talk with not just conservative minority groups, but the most prominent organizations in minority communities, like the NAACP for African Americans and the National Council of La Raza for Hispanics. This, too, has been an issue in the past: President Bush avoided speaking at the NAACP until after Hurricane Katrina and conservative commentators have a long history of smearing NCLR as an extremist group.
Whether the latest effort will make a difference is an open question, but Priebus has signalled it will be a top priority. He’s already committed $10 million to minority outreach as an initial display of his seriousness.
3. Gays Aren’t Going Away
It’s not a coincidence that more Republicans are endorsing gay marriage: gay rights has gone from a wedge issue against Democrats in 2004 to a topic President Obama actively highlighted in his 2012 campaign.
The RNC’s report doesn’t come out for marriage equality, but it warns that the party needs to move left on gay issues, not so much because gays are an important voting bloc, but because intolerance scares off other groups of voters, too.
“Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be,” the report reads.
Priebus praised Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Monday for “making some pretty big inroads” by endorsing gay marriage recently — even as the RNC chair fell short of endorsing his position.
4. Epistemic Closure Is Real
There’s been a long running debate on the intellectual right about whether the GOP suffers from “epistemic closure,” a condition in which conservatives block out all dissenting voices until eventually their own arguments sound nonsensical to anyone who doesn’t already agree with them. The RNC report concludes this is a real and growing problem.
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” its authors write. “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue. Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us.”
As if the suggestion that Republicans are close-minded isn’t wading into delicate enough territory, the same section suggests that the party’s obsessive focus on Ronald Reagan may be harmful as well.
“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,” it reads. It approvingly quotes columnists Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner, who wrote last month, “It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the Party more than 30 years ago.”
5. Look To The States
The RNC report makes a careful distinction between federal Republicans — bad! — and state Republicans — good! The GOP currently holds 30 governorships and many of them, like Chris Christie in New Jersey and John Kasich in Ohio, have been both moving to the center and gaining in popularity recently. They stand in stark contrast to House Republicans, who have more conservative constituencies and typically have been more inflexible in their views.
“Republican governors are America’s reformers in chief,” the report reads. “They continue to deliver on conservative promises of reducing the size of government while making people’s lives better. They routinely win a much larger share of the minority vote than GOP presidential candidates, demonstrating an appeal that goes beyond the base of the Party.”
The report’s advice echoes Mitt Romney, who spoke at CPAC on Friday and urged Republicans to look to governors — especially blue state governors — for tips on how to rebuild the GOP. Christie — who Romney cited by name — was not asked to speak at CPAC due to conservative anger with his few moderate lapses.
6. Stop Being The Rich Guys
Less than year after nominating a millionaire investor who proclaimed that “corporations are people,” the RNC is concerned that the party has become too closely tied with wealthy interests.
“We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare,” the report says. “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.”
The report doesn’t offer much beyond rhetorical suggestions here — it actually recommends loosening campaign finance laws to allow corporate money to influence politics even more — but it does acknowledge the issue is a legitimate threat.
“The perception, revealed in polling, that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years. It is a major deficiency that must be addressed,” the report reads.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.