GOP National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus commissioned a 100-page postmortem of the 2012 election — the party resists the term “autopsy” — in which both the White House and the Senate seemed eminently winnable. Instead, President Barack Obama handily won re-election, the Democrats tightened their control of the Senate and picked up a number of House seats.
The “Growth & Opportunity Project,” drafted by five veteran GOP operatives, gets points for brutal honesty:
“Asked to describe Republicans, focus groups said that the party is ‘scary,’ ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘out of touch’ and that we were a party of ‘stuffy old men.’ This is consistent with the findings of other post-election surveys.”
The report recommended halving the number of primary debates — 20 in the 2012 cycle and 21 in 2008 — a grueling marathon that is perhaps one reason why so many of the GOP’s first string declined to run. It would give the party control of the debates and move the national convention to earlier in the summer.
Those recommendations are good. Last year’s late-summer convention meant Romney continued to get pummeled by the media and his rivals, even though they had no chance by that point of winning. And it gave Obama what amounted to a free ride all summer as well in which to sit back and fill his war chest.
The report also urged the party to embrace immigration reform, be less doctrinaire on social issues and invest in technology and field staff as the Democrats have done. There’s no question the Republicans need to catch up to the Democrats in terms of technology, field staff and their ability to run “micro-campaigns” that energize micro-constituencies to get them to the polls. And while if Republicans continue to demand what amounts to a “loyalty test” on various social issues that they will find their message a tougher and tougher sell, there’s little evidence to indicate that reversing course on immigration reform and paving a “path to citizenship” would net them many new friends.
But a great part of the Republicans’ problems in 2012 boiled down to messaging, or the lack thereof. The party nominated a presidential candidate who spoke conservatism sincerely, but as a second language, and who failed to connect with many moderates. And he did himself and his party no favors by letting his opponents define him as a callous rich man. His failure to effectively rebut that cruel caricature doomed him and his party.
He and too many other Republicans have let their opponents and the media distort what they stand for.
The report contrasted the GOP’s success at the statehouse level, where its governors are “appealing and inclusive,” to its often ideologically rigid politics at the federal level. Without significant changes, the report said, “it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.”
America seems to be moving leftward, a change driven by both demographics and a president who often seems a socialist at heart.
You’d think it wouldn’t be so hard for Republicans to portray themselves as an appealing alternative to that, wouldn’t you?