‘Alarm bells’ ringing over Republicans' flagging outreach efforts

Six months after the Republican National Committee (RNC) issued a post-election blueprint for rebooting the party and reaching new voters, top Republicans are worried their party is failing to meet its goals.

Party strategists and a number of Republican lawmakers are concerned about fallout from the GOP’s handling of the government shutdown, public infighting between lawmakers, attempts to reach out to female and minority voters and an overall lack of a positive vision for the country.

ADVERTISEMENT
“In terms of the big-picture messaging, there are alarm bells out there,” said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, one of the co-authors of the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project report.

“This intra-party nastiness is destructive,” Fleischer continued, referring to public feuding over strategy on the government shutdown and debt ceiling talks.

“You won’t grow the party by appealing in a divisive way to fewer voters.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned that the GOP was “taking our eye off the ball” by failing to focus on boosting appeal with Hispanics, young voters and women — groups that voted strongly Democratic in 2012.

“We’re sort of off-track,” Graham said. “Conservatism is an asset. Slash and burn politics, maybe not so much. ... The only thing that will prevent us from getting a majority could be us.”

Republicans commended the RNC for tackling many of the recommendations in the report, written in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama and a failed effort to win control of the Senate.

They said the RNC has made progress on field and data efforts that will help Republicans compete with Democrats in upcoming elections.

But they warned that other GOP lawmakers and thought leaders are hurting the party’s image, and could damage their chances of winning back the Senate in 2014 and capturing the White House in 2016. 

Many voiced concerns that a divisive primary process — partly fueled by conservative outside groups — threatens again to put the Senate out of reach for Republicans.

Republicans mentioned Alaska, Iowa and Georgia as states where the GOP should win Senate seats but could be hurt by divisive primaries. 

Some pointed to conservative Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R) struggles in the state’s gubernatorial campaign as evidence the party is still not nominating enough candidates with appeal to independents.

The 2016 election is more of a concern because the electorate is younger and more racially diverse due to higher turnout.

The RNC’s post-election report warned the GOP needed to “stop talking to itself” and reach out to undecided voters, as well as offer more room for dissent.

“Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism,” the report said.

Many believe that advice has not been heeded.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) told his fellow Republicans Monday night before the government shut down that “there are too many who are living in their own echo chamber.”

Establishment Republicans believe a rightward tilt has been driven by GOP fears of conservative groups, which pushed hard for lawmakers to support the ObamaCare defunding fight.

The Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action, two groups with ties to former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), have been particularly aggressive in their attacks on Republican senators for not agreeing with them.

“In the months after the 2012 election, the RNC appropriately tried to shine a light on the long-term problems facing the party. That’s been ignored in some quarters, and the folks that have ignored those recommendations are those that have brought us to the point we’re at today,” said Brian Walsh, a former communications director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“The weeks ahead will be a judgment on their leadership.”

Immigration reform’s seeming stall-out in the GOP-controlled House is another concern, though several strategists remained hopeful the House would eventually pass legislation seen as crucial to the party’s outreach to Hispanics.

“Sometimes when a group of folks in the party don’t like 5 percent of what someone says, they want to take them on in a primary, come after them, and that’s not helpful,” said Henry Barbour, a close ally of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and a co-author of the Growth and Opportunity Project report. “We need to be united.”

The report also recommended increased outreach to female voters, partly by recruiting women to run.

The GOP has made some progress on that front: The National Republican Congressional Committee has a large field of female candidates to boast about. The National Republican Senatorial Committee hasn’t had quite as much success, though Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is the likely nominee in West Virginia, and RNC member Terri Lynn Land has emerged as the leading candidate in Michigan.

Polling indicates the GOP has made little progress with groups vital to future success,  and that the ongoing government shutdown poses big risks for the party.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found three quarters of voters, and a similar number of independents, opposed shutting down the federal government to block ObamaCare’s implementation.

Congressional Republicans fell to their lowest approval rating ever in the poll, with 17 percent approving, and 74 percent disapproving. Democrats led by 9 percentage points in the generic congressional ballot test for 2014.

A National Journal poll released Tuesday found one third of women and nonwhite voters said the GOP had moved further from their views since 2012.

RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer said the committee has made “significant progress” on the report’s 219 recommendations.

He touted efforts from some party leaders like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to make inroads with nontraditional GOP constituencies and help recruit female candidates. But he admitted some in the party hadn’t gotten the memo.

“At the end of the day, candidates and elected officials decide how they’re going to adapt,” Spicer said.

“We made a series of recommendations that benefit the party, but at the end of the day, it’s the candidates that still matter.”


More in Presidential races

Huckabee: Confederate flag 'not an issue' in 2016 race

Read more »