By Cameron Joseph and Jonathan Easley - 03/18/13 04:30 PM EDT
The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Monday issued a blistering critique of the party’s recent electoral failures, determining that “drastic changes to almost every major element of the modern Republican Party” are necessary if the GOP hopes to remain competitive.
"Unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future,” the RNC said in a report on the party's future.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus outlined a 219-point plan Monday that aims to reboot the party’s image, electoral strategy and policy emphasis, calling the 2012 results a "wake-up call" for the party.
“There’s no one reason we lost,” Priebus said at the National Press Club.
“Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient. We weren’t inclusive. We were behind in both data and digital, and our primary and debate process needed improvement. So, there’s no one solution. There’s a long list of them.”
The effort, dubbed the Growth and Opportunity Project, was put together by a group of leading GOP strategists. It calls for heavy investment in outreach to youth, women, Hispanics and other minorities, combined with a focus on making the party's message more inclusive and open to different views.
The RNC will also pour resources into improving its ground game and digital operations, including hiring a new chief technology officer and spending $10 million this year toward minority outreach efforts. The report calls for a shorter primary campaign season, an earlier Republican National Convention and efforts to limit the number of presidential primary debates.
It also explicitly calls for the GOP to back a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, a likely source of friction among party activists.
"Public perception of the party is at record lows," the report says. "Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us."
Priebus didn’t mention the immigration recommendation during his speech at the National Press Club, and argued for a change in tone rather than belief.
Among the issues the report tackles is the party’s messaging, which it says has produced the perception that “Republicans don’t care” about the lives of ordinary Americans.
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” the report says. “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.”
Priebus said that the perception of the GOP as the “party of the rich” continues to grow, and that focus groups described Republicans as “narrow minded,” “out of touch” and “stuffy old men.”
Priebus didn’t mention outreach to gay voters in the speech. But in the question-and-answer portion, Priebus promised those who come out in support of gay marriage — like Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — would continue to have strong backing from the party.
“I think our policies are sound but I think in many ways the way we communicate can be a real problem, he said. “It's not about altering our principles. I think it's about the way we communicate and the way we welcome people into our party.”
Other issues remain.
Neither Priebus nor the members of the Growth and Opportunity Committee had simple answers for how to deal with controversial voices within the party, like former Senate candidate and Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) or big-spending conservative groups who in the past backed candidates who lost otherwise winnable races.
Those issues could complicate the GOP’s reboot — something those who wrote the report were quick to acknowledge.
“The report makes clear policy always matters. Policy and message go hand-in-hand,” former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, one of the report's authors, told The Hill.
“Congress is our policy committee, the governors are our policy committee, our candidates are our policy committee, so the [RNC] can only go so far on specific policies. Certainly in different regions of the country there are people with different messages, that's part of a vibrant party. But policy will always matter, and I think we're dropping some pretty strong hints.”
When asked what the GOP should do with Akin-like candidates, Fleischer said “hopefully the parties in the states don't let people climb that bus to begin with.” But he acknowledged that will “absolutely” take a significant amount of time before the party can be righted.
“That's part of a process — our party is figuring things out,” he said.
The RNC report points to successes the GOP has had at the state level, holding governorships in 30 states with 315 electoral votes, as the way forward.
“The GOP today is a tale of two parties,” it says. “One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself."
The White House said the RNC seemed more interested in emphasizing tone than changing policy.
“I think it's important to note that the best way to increase support with the public for your party is to embrace policies the public support,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
“And embracing policies that the public does not support, or aggressively rejects, makes it more difficult to earn their support.”
Republican National Committee member Henry Barbour, another top strategist and co-author of the report, said outside groups and flawed candidates couldn’t be eliminated. But Barbour said GOP leaders needed to be more public about standing up to them.
“When people say things that are crazy, responsible people in the party need to speak up and speak the truth. Frankly, on some issues the loudest, most obnoxious, shrillest people get on cable news and they, in essence, speak for our party. Well, if we continue to let that happen, then we deserve what we get,” Barbour said.
But Barbour's own answer showed how hard it may be for the party to change. He called President Obama a “socialist,” a term other that makes some other strategists in the party cringe.
“If we want to focus on a handful of issues and try to impact some primaries and lose the generals, that's really not going to effect public policy. We all want to make America strong economically and militarily and every other way but you can't do that if you're not in office. We've got a socialist in office right now — how's that working for us?”
When asked about whether that was one of the terms the GOP should be avoiding, Barbour defended its use.
“I don't care. I mean, look, I think he's a socialist. I'm not saying he doesn't love our country,” he said. “No, I don't care.”
—This story was originally posted at 8:04 a.m. and was updated 8:50 a.m. and 1:55 p.m.