December 11, 2012

It is a misnomer to say that the five co-chairs, two of whom spoke to Right Turn, selected by Republican National Committee chairman for its “Growth and Opportunity Project” will be doing an autopsy on the 2012 election. In a press release the RNC announced:

The effort, known as the Growth and Opportunity Project, will be chaired by five GOP leaders and is charged by [RNC Chairman Reince] Priebus with initially reviewing past practices and also making critical recommendations for the future in these eight key areas: 1) campaign mechanics and ground game; 2) messaging; 3) fundraising; 4) demographic partners and allies; 5) third party groups; 6) campaign finance issues; 7) presidential primaries; and 8) lessons learned from Democratic campaign tactics.

One of the five co-chairs, Henry Barbour (nephew of former Mississippi governor and RNC chairman Haley Barbour), is a longtime party activist and prolific fundraiser. He told me in a phone interview that the committee has “a broad perspective.” He explained, “Our effort is going to focus on the future of the Republican Party. How does it grow? How does it win elections?” He said that RNC staff will assist in the effort, but he stressed, “Our effort is to go out to listen to people. Who is giving us smart advice?”


RNC chairman Reince Priebus replaced Michael Steel in Feb. 2011. (Matt McClain / The Washington Post)

Barbour said the goal is to finish their work by March 1. The five co-chairs already had one conference call and have started by identifying the sorts of people they need to talk with about the party’s future. It will be a long list if the five chairs are interested in getting a complete picture of the party’s problems.

Indeed, activists outside the Beltway, state parties, successful organizers and staffers at more junior levels and scores of other Republicans (or former Republicans or non-Republicans) may well have a better perspective on the party and its shortcomings than the leaders in the party and elected officials.

RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski echoed this. She told me via e-mail, “The goal was to have both inside and outside influence to find out what we did right and what we need to improve on as a party. RNC members are the board of directors and therefore important to the process of looking forward. We also recognized the importance of having outside people involved.” She added, “Each of the co-chairs bring different viewpoints and backgrounds to the table and more people will be brought into the fold as we get a full analysis of what  Republicans need to do moving forward.”

Coincidental to the RNC announcement, Resurgent Republic and the Hispanic Leadership Network this week will release  the findings of their post-election poll of Hispanic voters in Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. That should provide some eye-opening detail regarding the extent of the GOP’s problem with Hispanic voters.

I asked co-chair Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary, if the committee chairs were given any parameters. Could they, for example, recommend a major policy shift or propose redoing the primary process? He said, “The chairman has charged us with thinking big.” However, he conceded, “We are not a policy committee.”

That said, Fleischer explained that while exit polls showed conservatives outnumber liberals 35 to 25 percent, too many “growing sections of the electorate” are turned off from the GOP. “We have a problem,” he said bluntly. He said this is not like past post-election efforts. “There is new urgency when you look back at an election so many people thought would have ended differently.” He nevertheless cautions that the GOP did win big in 2010. Perhaps heightened concern, but not panic, should be the order of the day. He is convinced that “all of these [problems] are solvable.”

The question remains whether the party will be willing to take the steps needed to solve its growing inability to reach young voters, minorities and women. The risk of a committee like this is that it produces a voluminous report of solid suggestions, but the report goes on the shelf, never to be seen again (like the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction plan). You can almost hear the cries from the right-wing blogosphere objecting to any substantive policy changes on immigration or gay marriage and see the eye-rolling from grizzled veterans who think it is beneath the dignity of Republicans to “feel your pain.” Certainly every policy, mechanical change or stylistic proposal may affect someone’s turf or offend some contingent. But if the party does nothing there is every reason to believe it will keep losing elections. The fear of that and the determination to seek input from a  wide array of people may be the best thing going for Fleischer, Barbour and their three co-chairs, as well as the man who sent them on their mission.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.