Perhaps it is a measure of how cynical the right has become about its leadership, but few conservatives expected much of anything from the Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project report.
However, what came out was a bold and substantive report. Its endorsement of immigration reform and oblique encouragement for the greatest diversity of views on social issues got the most attention. But, in fact, its laborious analysis of everything from polling to voter data collection to minority outreach was impressive and long overdue. In going through the messaging and mechanical issues and making specific recommendations (more than 200), the RNC refused to accept the old guard’s insistence that the only thing wrong with the GOP was insufficient stridency. The RNC acknowledged that the GOP can’t win presidential elections with 20th-century technology and with only a fraction of the electorate.
In and of itself this is helpful in promoting innovation in the RNC and in third-party groups, campaigns and state and local parties. It also turned out to be a helpful litmus test in discerning the competing sides on the right.
The real battle lines are not conservative vs. moderate, libertarian vs. conservative or even isolationists vs. internationalists, although these divisions exist. Rather, the battle for the soul of the GOP is now between old and new guard, Reagan taxidermists and 21st-century innovators, grumpy reactionaries and cheery millennials, and media antagonists and new-media operators.
The old guard was furious with the RNC. Pandering to the voters! Tokenism! Amnesty lovers! Technology addicts! The louder they screamed, the more apparent it became that they were a good deal of the problem. In wanting to freeze the party and the country in the Reagan-era and viewing adept marketing and demographic realism as threats to the soul of the GOP, they revealed their own maladroitness. If the GOP is to survive and flourish, the imaginative policy architects, the new-media-savvy pols and the advocates of inclusiveness will have to save the GOP from itself.
In giving the new guard a bevy of new ideas and adopting the banner of innovation and inclusion, the RNC Growth and Opportunity report makers (including some superstars among the RNC staff) deserve the thanks of their party. For that we can say, well done, ladies and gentlemen.