The Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project,” the widely commented-upon 100-page autopsy of GOP defeat released on Monday, is quite the technical feat, as the report itself is wont to boast: “52,000 contacts made,” “800+ conference calls,” “50+ focus groups,” “3,000+ group listening sessions” with project co-chairs, extensive polls of women and Hispanics, and so on. But for all the analytic exertion, has the document lighted on the source of the GOP’s recent electoral woes, or plausibly plotted a course correction? Unfortunately, the answer on both counts is, not really.
The report opens with a précis of the agglomerated conventional wisdom of the last several months: The Republican party is out of touch; people think it “doesn’t care”; it preaches to the choir instead of appealing to potential converts; it needs to reach out to minorities, women, and young people. There is truth in each of these, which is how they got to be platitudes. But the action items recommended to address these issues are heavy on committee formation (e.g., a “Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council” with representatives from the African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, Native American, and “other” communities) and tokenism (the report’s No. 1 recommendation for reaching out to minorities is to put minorities in charge of outreach). To implement this aspect of the document, RNC chairman Reince Priebus has promised to establish dialogues with groups such as LULAC, La Raza, and the NAACP, which strikes us as unhelpful and willfully blind to the fact that such groups are ideologically opposed to Republican principles. A truly conservative minority-outreach strategy would severely weaken these groups by challenging their claims to represent their respective ethnicities.
In reality, selling the Republican party’s appeal is more about the appeal than about the selling. And there are narrow limits on what organizational rejiggering can do to make the party more attractive. The heavy lifting is going to require imagination and an appetite for risk, and it is going to have to be done by strong candidates and policy entrepreneurs.
Where the report does get into policy — most notably on the issue of immigration reform — its analysis is shallow and its recommendations opportunistic. Much is pinned on the empirically dubious claim that George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, and a nexus is drawn between this factoid and the former president’s conciliatory rhetoric on immigration. But nowhere does the document offer a substantive argument in favor of the kind of comprehensive immigration reform on offer in Washington, or even come close to demonstrating that support for such a program would accrue Republicans more votes than it lost them, considering that Hispanics are often ideologically liberal for reasons beyond immigration.
Still, the party’s proposals for consolidating the primary calendar and erecting reasonable limits on the number and frequency of debates are worthy of close consideration. The 2012 primary was unwieldy — its sheer length exacerbated the Democrats’ incumbent advantage in fundraising and organization, and the debates produced diminishing returns. Moreover, the report’s extended look at campaign mechanics, data collection, and new opportunities for fundraising marks the start of a critical retooling process for the party. The good news about the fact that the size of the 2012 loss was significantly due to technological and organizational disadvantage is that this is correctable. And in the end, the most important contribution of the national party apparatus may be to correct it.
Whether it can do more than that is a much bigger question. But little in the report suggests it can.