GOP infighting

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz against Arizona Sen. John McCain; McCain against Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin against GOP strategist Karl Rove; Rove against Iowa Rep. Steve King; former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele against current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus; former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) against the Republican consultant class; conservatives against popular Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia — instead of uniting and broadening the tent, many Republicans are back to drinking their different brews of Kool-Aid, breaking into public fights and making the tent ever tighter and even more unwelcoming. 

So it should come as no surprise that a party in search of answers — for why it lost the female vote, youth vote, Asian vote, Latino vote, African-American vote, gay vote and more than a few others — would pounce on the first person to deliver them. Priebus released a dramatic report Monday titled the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” an “autopsy” of the party’s 2012 election loss, and found many Republicans are still far more interested in killing the messenger than making painful changes.

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The unprecedented effort, undertaken with focus groups and conversations with 50,000 people, seeks to address the party’s campaign liabilities by updating its strategies for social media, fundraising and minority outreach. It also recommends fewer debates, a shorter primary season and an earlier national convention. Priebus pledged a $10 million project to infiltrate communities the way President Obama’s campaign did in 2008 and 2012 to sell the Republican message. That message, said the report, must change. The authors were surprisingly critical, at one point even conceding that up-by-your-own-bootstraps, government-bashing, budget-cutting rhetoric might not be enough to appeal to a post-recession electorate whose demographics are not only changing but whose needs may have as well.

It stated that: “People who are flat on their back ... do not care if the help comes from the private sector or the government; they just want help ... we must make sure that the government works for those truly in need.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said something similar at CPAC last week, stating it is the “rare individual” who overcomes adversity and succeeds in America. “Here’s reality: If you’re fortunate enough to count yourself among the privileged, much of the rest of the nation is drowning. In our country today, if you’re born poor, if your parents didn’t go to college, if you don’t know your father, if English isn’t spoken at your home, then the odds are stacked against you.” His exhortations, no surprise, were roundly ignored.

And so it was with Priebus. Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh blasted the “autopsy,” declaring the coroners “totally bamboozled” and suggesting the party’s loss resulted from its candidates and policies not being conservative enough. Editors from the National Review also blew off the RNC report, criticizing not only its findings but Priebus’s plans for outreach to minority groups. 

Priebus’s critics are just plain wrong. The findings in the report are true, the recommendations are prudent and likely to bear fruit and the purpose is critical — to find a path to victory. It will be up to GOP candidates to run their campaigns, and Republicans in Congress to pass a new agenda that will, in combination, win over new voters, but the RNC chairman is trying harder than anyone in leadership or influence within the party to prevent another loss. Doing what it takes to win, however, will still be perceived as a cop-out to many Republicans, like former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), who asked at CPAC: “What does it profit a movement to gain the country and lose its own soul?”

That pretty much says it all.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.