The Republican National Committee’s 100-page Growth and Opportunity Project report was released this morning. To the surprise of many, the report is controversial and bold, not the usual political pabulum designed to avoid ruffling feathers. It directly calls on candidates to embrace a more voter-friendly, practical appeal to problem-solving, with an emphasis on upward mobility. Most striking is its blunt endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform and its encouragement for a variety of views on social issues.
On immigration the report states unequivocally:
We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
Given that many of its most popular leaders endorse immigration reform this may not cause as much of a stir as it would have 6 months or a year ago. Don’t be surprised, however, to see a backlash from those appealing to anti-immigration exclusionists. It would be a mistake for established conservative media outlets to pander to those voices.
Interestingly, the report has its most extensive discussion of gay rights in the section on appealing to youth, noting that “there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.” It does not explicitly endorse gay marriage but it acknowledges a variety of viewpoints is essential. (“If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”)
These passages may very well raise the hackles of many social conservative activists and some elected officials. But by not asking for endorsement, merely toleration of a variety of positions on gay rights and marriage, the report aims to take the issue off the national political table. It may get a big assist from the Supreme Court.
As for the overall message of the party, it echoes many of the speakers we heard at CPAC (“We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies. We are the Party of private-sector economic growth because that is the best way to create jobs and opportunity.”); it goes beyond those speeches to deliver some tough love. (“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.”) This draws directly from the playbook of governors, whom the report notes are very successful, and national pols like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
There are oodles of recommendations on technology, fundraising, data collection and polling, much of it drawn from the failings of the Mitt Romney campaign. (For example, on polling, the report states: “‘Likely Voter’ screening data collected by various firms in 2012 should be re-examined to see which voters eventually voted and which did not, allowing a validation of the most predictive screening questions, and likely voter scales. Special attention needs to be given to this question to ensure that we are not screening out casual interest voters who nevertheless show up on Election Day.”)
Most interesting on the presidential nomination process, the report calls for the nominating convention to be held in late June or early July and the primaries to wrap up by mid-May. The report also urges, “The number of debates should be reduced by roughly half to a still robust number of approximately 10 to 12, with the first occurring no earlier than September 1, 2015, and the last ending just after the first several primaries (February-March 2016).” In a move certain to upset the caucus states and the later states in the primary process the report urges that “the Party should strongly consider a regional primary system or some other form of a major reorganization instead of the current system.” It nevertheless chooses to avoid a war with the early states that have traditionally started the process. (“Recognizing the traditions of several states that have early nominating contests, the newly organized primaries would begin only after the ‘carve-out’ states have held their individual elections.”) It also gives a strong shove to state parties to get rid of caucuses and other low-turn-out events: “We also recommend broadening the base of the Party and inviting as many voters as possible into the Republican Party by discouraging conventions and caucuses for the purpose of allocating delegates to the national convention.”
The RNC is taking a risk here, one that in my mind is badly needed. If the GOP remains stagnant on message, policy, appeal and mechanics, it will atrophy as a national party. If it cannot connect with Americans, offer something for Americans of all backgrounds and get its technology and nominating system up to snuff it will, like the Whigs and other extinct political parties, go out of business.