The 10 things you need to know from the “Growth and Opportunity Project” report

March 18, 2013

The Republican National Committee's autopsy of the 2012 election spans 100 pages.

And, while it's worth reading the whole thing, let's be honest: you're not going to do that. That's where we come in! The Fix has leafed through the full report and plucked out the 10 most important bits. They are below.


Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Getty Images

Before we get to it, it's worth noting that the RNC's "Growth and Opportunity Project" is not a namby-pamby document chock-full of platitudes about what the party is doing right. It is instead a full-scale indictment of the way the GOP has gone off the rails and a panoply of suggestions on how to fix it.  As we have written, it's not entirely clear whether the party will listen to the tough love from the RNC and follow its advice. But that is a debate for another day.

Today we break down what you need to know from the 2012 autopsy report. What did we miss? The comments section awaits.

1. "The GOP today is a tale of two parties. One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future."

Why it's important: The next generation of Republican stars -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- tilts heavily toward governors.  Meanwhile, approval ratings for Congressional Republicans is at close to historic lows.

2. "The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. 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."

Why it's important: See the CPAC conference over the weekend. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who told the conservative crowd what it wanted to hear, was a hit. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who offered a frank analysis of what the party is (and isn't), much less so.

3. "We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. 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."

Why it's important: The Republican brand, as the report itself acknowledges, has become far too synonymous with rich white men.  Mitt Romney was never able to shake the perception -- aggressively fostered by President Obama and his campaign -- that he was the candidate from and for corporate America. A majority -- 53 percent -- of voters in 2012 said Romney's policies would favor the rich, according to the exit poll.

4. "If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn't want them in the United States, they won't pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn't matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party's position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door."

Why it's important: This makes clear that the party -- or at least the RNC -- sees immigration reform as a sine qua non in terms of its attempts to win over Hispanic voters. Of course, there are plenty of elements within the party who will resist what they believe is putting politics before principle on immigration.

5. "For many of the youngest voters and new 2016 voters, their perception of the two parties was born during the Barack Obama era, and that perception will help determine their worldview moving forward. The Party is seen as old and detached from pop culture."

Why it's important: In 2012, President Obama won 60 percent of those 18-29; he won 66 percent of those voters in 2008. As important, young voters made up 19 percent of the overall electorate in 2012 -- up from 18 percent in 2008.  Those young voters will -- surprise! -- get older. And, Republicans must find a way to appeal to them.

6. "On messaging, we must change our tone -- especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters."

Why it's important: The modern Republican party was built, at least in part, on its commitment to social issues -- opposition to abortion, opposition to same sex marriage etc. But, the culture at large -- particularly among the young -- is changing on those issues, and the RNC document is a reflection of the need to change with them. One issue: Does the base of the party want to change?

7. "TV spending is out of control. Outside groups spent approximately $1 billion on TV ads in swing states in the final six months of the 2012 campaign. Despite the extraordinary amount of money that was invested in TV by outside groups in 2012, the final results of the election barely differed from the polls six months earlier. There are lots of arguments for why this is the case, and we don't believe we lost because of third-party TV ads. However, the pendulum has swung too far when it comes to spending on TV ads."

Why it's important: The traditional thinking -- of both parties -- is that you spend all of your money on television. But, as the RNC report details, the vast spending by the likes of American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity didn't move the needle as much as you might expect given what they spent. (These super PACs would dispute that assessment, insisting that without their spending Romney would have lost by far more.)

8. "An allied group dedicated solely to research to establish a private archive and public website that does nothing but post inappropriate Democrat[ic] utterances and act as a clearinghouse for information on Democrats would serve as an effective vehicle for affecting the public issue debate."

Why it's important: This is a blatant suggestion to the conservative outside group world to start a business along the lines of the liberal American Bridge -- an opposition-research clearinghouse.

9. "The number of debates has become ridiculous, and they're taking candidates away from other important campaign activities. It should be recognized that depending on a candidate's standing in the polls, some candidates will want to participate in an unlimited number of debates, as early as they can and as often as they can."

Why it's important: Fewer debates -- the RNC document proposes between 10 and 12 -- makes it more difficult for less well-funded/well-known candidates to emerge. Without the 20+ debates in 2012, it's hard to imagine the likes of Herman Cain or even Newt Gingrich breaking through, at least for a time, as major players in the race. Longer shot candidates are sure to resist this change.

10. "To facilitate moving up primary elections to accommodate an earlier convention, the Party should strongly consider a regional primary system or some other form of a major reorganization instead of the current system. The current system is a long, winding, often random road that makes little sense. It stretches the primaries out too long, forces our candidates to run out of money, and because some states vote so late, voters in those states never seem to count."

Why it's important: Like limiting debates, seeking to truncate the nomination fight will tend to favor candidates with broader organizational support and better funding. As such, it will be resisted by candidates without those things. It's also not clear whether the RNC can enforce its desire for a shorter nominating fight given the variety of competing interests among the states for a coveted spot on the primary calendar.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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