Like most autopsies, it wasn’t pretty -- and, in my view, it wasn’t particularly surprising.
Priebus’ committee concluded what seemed obvious: voters chose Obama over Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee, because they were turned off by what the GOP is against. That includes gay marriage, government spending, abortion, global warming, affirmative action, economic stimulus, taxing the rich, gun control, equal pay for women and citizenship for undocumented immigrants. For openers.
Hard to imagine, but nobody liked the Party of No.
And when focus groups looked at the GOP, they saw “narrow-minded, out-of-touch, stuffy old men,” Priebus told reporters at the National Press Club. “The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.”
That’s a stunner -- particularly when your 2012 standard-bearer against a relatively youthful but vulnerable African American incumbent is a white, 67-year-old millionaire who has offshore bank accounts, a Malibu vacation home with a car elevator and a C. Montgomery Burns-esque view that 47 percent of voters are moochers demanding government handouts.
But Priebus also laid out an ambitious prescription for his party: step out of the conservative echo chamber; reach out to minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos; catch up with young people on gay marriage; compete with Democrats on campaign technology; give up the Ronald Reagan idolatry; and find more appealing candidates -- including non-whites -- who can explain why one should vote Republican.
Jack Kemp, a party turns its lonely eyes to you.
Priebus may be sincere in his prescription for what ails Republicans. After all, he put a big chunk of money where his mouth is with $10 million for something called the Growth and Opportunity Project, a plan to build minority participation in the party nationwide.
But Doc Priebus is treating the symptom and not the disease. And if the last few days are any indication -- and demographic shifts are to be believed -- the top Republicans who still hold a tight grip on power would rather live with what amounts to a terrible illness.
Just hours after Priebus suggested Republicans should take it easy on the whole immigration thing, a host of influential GOP senators -- all of them white men -- hit the airwaves to condemn Obama’s nomination of Justice Department attorney Tom Perez to head the Labor Department. He’s the first Latino the president has selected for his second term cabinet.
Within minutes of the nomination, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said Perez’s views on immigration “are far outside the mainstream.” His proof: Perez once worked with an advocacy group that helps undocumented workers -- day laborers, mostly -- find jobs.
This is from a legislator whose state was among the first to adopt a “self-deportation” strategy: pass strict new laws that make life so harsh for undocumented immigrants they’d send themselves back across the border.
Another lawmaker, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter -- a central figure in the “DC Madam” prostitution scandal of 2007 -- rejects Perez because the Justice Department chose not to prosecute a flimsy voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panthers, a tiny fringe group whose scare-Whitey name belies its irrelevance.
Right on cue, Rush Limbaugh stepped to the mic in the conservative media echo chamber. Limbaugh told his audience that Obama’s selection of Perez is tantamount to a white president selecting “the Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan” for a cabinet job.
Those historic reactions alone would be appalling to most reasonable voters. But they come in the wake of the annual CPAC convention, where conservative Republicans gather to feast on red-meat speeches from the likes of anti-tax guru Grover Norquist and attend breakout sessions like, “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not?”
And good luck prying Republicans away from the Church of St. Reagan: at CPAC, speaker after speaker, including some 2016 front-runners, stood at a lectern before a 20-foot backdrop prominently featuring The Gipper (posed on the right, of course, past Barry Goldwater) and hailed him as the conservative ideal, peace and blessings upon his name.
Not to mention that Priebus -- who defeated Michael Steele, the first African American RNC chair, to win the job, then blasted him for draining the party’s coffers -- isn’t the most credible architect for sweeping, young- and minority-friendly changes to the Republican brand.
During the 2012 election, MSNBC host Chris Matthews exploded at Priebus for allowing Romney’s surrogates like John Sununu to engage in race-baiting at Obama’s expense, including erroneous charges that the president ended the welfare-to-work requirement and a “cheap-shot” birther joke Romney told to an overwhelmingly white crowd at a campaign rally.
“It’s an embarrassment to your party!” Matthews thundered, leaving Priebus flustered and defensive.
Yet on Priebus’ watch, GOP officials in several states made it harder for young people and minorities to vote, curtailing early voting and raising the requirements to register. And the GOP faithful rewarded those accomplishments by overwhelmingly voting to give Priebus another term as RNC president.
Given the last 72 hours in Washington, it’s hard to imagine powerful GOP establishment types like Senate Minority Leader Mitch “One-Term President” McConnell or austerity czar Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin leaping to embrace Priebus’ tough-love medicine -- with or without a spoonful of sugar.
If the first step to rehabilitation is admitting that you have a problem, Priebus and the Republicans are still living in denial. And that means the GOP will face more post-mortems in its future -- and perhaps a political obituary.
Williams, a former White House reporter for Politico, is an independent political analyst and and writer for Washington Watch with Roland Martin.