Reince Priebus gives GOP prescription for future

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gave a blistering assessment of the GOP's problems on Monday based on the results of a months-long review, and he called on the party to reinvent itself and officially endorse immigration reform.

Referring to the November election, Priebus said at a breakfast meeting: “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."

"So, there’s no one solution," he said. "There’s a long list of them.”

Among the report's 219 prescriptions: a $10 million marketing campaign, aimed in particular at women, minorities and gays; a shorter, more controlled primary season and earlier national convention; and creation of an open data platform and analytics institute to provide research for Republican candidates.

Mississippi Committeeman Henry Barbour, Florida strategist Sally Bradshaw, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Puerto Rico Committewoman Zori Fonalledas and South Carolina Committeman Glenn McCall authored the report.

"When Republicans lost in November it was a wake-up call," Priebus said Monday. "We know that we have problems. We've identified them, and we're implementing the solutions to fix them."

While the document, the result of a three-month listening tour, is intended to focus on strategy, the group made one major foray into policy. If Republicans want to reach Hispanic voters, the authors say, the party "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform."

Asked if some Republicans would balk at that recommendation, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer -- one of the report's five co-chairmen -- said the last election had brought many conservatives to the same position.

"It was such a clear two-by-four to the head in the 2012 election," he told The Washington Post, referring to Mitt Romney's 27 percent share of the Hispanic vote, "that not saying it would have been such a glaring omission. Republicans could never win again if that's the status."

Yet some conservative pundits have already voiced strong opposition to the call for immigration reform.

The $10 million outreach effort to includes hiring national political directors for Hispanic, Asian-Pacific and African American voters and elevating minorities within the party. "We've done a real lousy job sometimes of bragging about the success that we've had" with minorities, in particular Hispanic candidates, Priebus said. To target African Americans, he plans to launch a pilot project in 2013 mayoral races aimed at identifying and turning out potential supporters in urban areas.

“The way we communicate our principles isn't resonating widely enough,” he said. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘stuffy old men.’ The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.”

In response, his report urges Republicans to "blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare" as well as big CEO retirement packages. It also suggests that there should be less focus in the party on Ronald Reagan, saying that "Republicans have comfortably remained the Party of Reagan without figuring out what comes next."

The party will make a concerted effort to elevate more women, Priebus said. He suggested that some "biologically stupid" remarks by Republican candidates turned off women voters. Female surrogates should be elevated, the report says, and women must be promoted within the RNC and included in messaging discussions " to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have."

The report tells Republicans they must "change our tone" on certain social issues to win over younger voters and reach out to gay Americans. But the authors do not offer a specific policy prescription on gay marriage as they did on immigration.

Asked about efforts to win over gay voters, Priebus said that Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio "made some pretty big inroads last week" when he came out in support of gay marriage. But Priebus did not comment on whether he supported Portman's stance, saying only that he supported the senator's freedom to take that stance. "I think it's about being decent. I think it's about dignity and respect, that nobody deserves to have their dignity diminished," he said.

"There's more of a split on issues involving gays" than on immigration, Fleischer told The Post. "Ten years ago, there used to be no split. Now the younger generation of Republicans is leading that split, and that's a healthy part of being a big tent," he said.

The document calls for Republicans to embrace different points of view, "instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac." Gay rights are singled out as a critical example.

"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. "If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out."

Also in hopes of attracting younger voters, the report calls for an "RNC Celebrity Task Force" to host star-studded events and fundraisers.

The open data platform is meant to help Republicans close a perceived digital communication gap with the Democratic Party. "Think of it like Apple and the App Store," Priebus said. Priebus also called for putting a chief digital and technology officer in place, opening an RNC satellite office in San Francisco and holding hack-a-thons to bolster relationships with developers.

"Over and over, our co-chairs heard of the need for an environment of intellectual curiosity," Priebus said.

The report also calls for reworking the presidential primary system so that the party picks its nominee earlier in the year, officially nominating him or her at a convention in June or July rather than late August or September. A regional primary system is suggested, and the report recommends discouraging delegate-selecting conventions or caucuses in favor of primaries.

Leaders may face opposition from non-establishment Republicans in trying to condense the primary calendar. One adviser to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) predicted that the “move away from caucuses and conventions will be highly controversial for the Paul world, tea partiers and social conservatives.”

The RNC aims to rein in, as much as possible, the many deep-pocketed outside conservative groups. Despite spending tens of millions of dollars in the last cycle, few of these organizations found much electoral success. The report recommends that the RNC, "as much as is legally possible," help outside groups rethink their ad spending and ground game investments, improve their data and technology and coordinate on resources and messaging. The report also calls for a push for looser campaign finance restrictions that would give federal campaigns the freedom to compete with super PACs.

Priebus said the report had to be "bold," "raw," and "real" -- and 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. "Maybe a few pieces of china needed to be broken."

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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