Many say the party will not start winning again until it starts looking for who to bring in, rather than who to exclude.
“The party needs to fundamentally retool our thinking. And to me, the biggest problem we have is our dismal primaries, and the litmus testing that goes on there, and all the money and all the groups that are there to divide Republicans from Republicans,” said Joe Straus, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
Last Monday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus launched what he promised will be a top-to-bottom review, which he called the Growth and Opportunity Project, that would include “mechanics, data, messaging, our coalition groups and our outreach.” But he insisted the party’s basic philosophy remains a sound one.
“If you look at the polling, 35 percent of the American people consider themselves conservative and 20 percent consider themselves liberal,” Priebus said. “We have natural advantages as far as the principles of the Republican Party — limited government and freedom and opportunity.”
But the polls also say that on the specifics of nearly every major policy question, Republicans are positioned against the tide of public opinion — on taxing the rich and maintaining entitlement programs, on same-sex marriage, on whether climate change is real and manmade, on whether illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship.
“We need to find a way to make our core principles make sense to voters who are part of a changing demographic,” said Ying Ma, 37, a Chinese immigrant and conservative activist in California. “One of the reasons all of these government goodies are so appealing is people don’t believe they can make it any other way.”
All that is why recent weeks have seen some of the party’s rising stars road-testing more compassionate themes that could have a broader appeal.
At a Dec. 4 dinner, 2012 vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, said both parties “tend to divide Americans into our voters and their voters. Let’s be really clear: Republicans must steer very clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and the anxieties of every American.” It was an unsubtle contrast with running mate Romney’s now-infamous suggestions that Obama supporters were government-dependent freeloaders.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaking at the same event, struck a similar theme.
Even more striking are some of the recent comments by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, newly installed as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and frequently mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender.