'Autopsy' Is the Right Word: RNC Releases Report on Party's Future

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has released its long-awaited study on the 2012 elections, with detailed recommendations about how the party can improve its future. 

The report, entitled the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” was compiled by a special committee consisting of former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, veteran GOP adviser Sally Bradshaw, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Puerto Rico committeewoman Zori Fonalledas, and South Carolina committeeman Glenn McCall.

For several months, RNC chairman Reince Priebus has referred to the committee’s report on the state of the party as an “autopsy.” It is an apt description, because the 100-page report has as much chance of reviving the GOP as an autopsy has of reviving a corpse. The report effectively suggests Republicans try to compete with Democrats by imitating them--not just in tactics and appearance, but in policy and ideas as well.

Thus far, media coverage of the report has anticipated its recommendations for a shorter primary process, fewer debates, an earlier national convention, and closer engagement with minority communities. Whatever the merits of these suggestions, they mask the fundamental flaw of the report: a failure to acknowledge, much less learn from, the successes of the recent past--all of which were built on conservative revival.

Instead, the report declares that the GOP is stuck in an “ideological cul-de-sac” and requires “a more welcoming conservatism.” (5) To that end, the report insists that the party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” (8) It also calls for Republicans to imitate the left’s identity politics, creating a “Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council” composed of “nonwhites” who are meant to help increase diversity.

There is nothing in the report about strengthening the Republican Party’s commitment to conservative principles--the winning formula in 1980, 1994, and 2010. Instead, the report declares that Republicans “make sure that the government works for those truly in need”--a worthy goal, but one that cannot be accomplished without shrinking it and focusing it. (The word “smaller” does not appear anywhere in the report’s 100 pages.)

The report suggests that the GOP focus on “growth.” But the sort of growth the report’s authors seem to envision is of the party bureaucracy itself. Repeatedly, the report calls for hiring new staff, creating new committees, and spending more money. In many ways the RNC’s report reads like a government policy prospectus--full of earnest exhortations and ambitious targets, bereft of common sense principles and clear, attainable priorities.

There are some bright spots in the report. It recognizes that “there is a need for greater competition among vendors to spur more creativity and better outcomes.” (34). Yet the RNC seems to have no idea how to foster that competition. The committee suggests that the RNC itself lead the way in technological innovation, data collection, and setting the message for third-party groups such as Super PACs and issue-based organizations.

One striking passage reads:

Chairman Priebus should call for a command performance meeting of the leadership of our friends and allies and not allow anyone to leave the room until it’s determined, to the extent allowed by law, who is doing what that can be divided legally. This is likely the most important recommendation in this friends and allies section of this report.” (49) 

Yet elsewhere, it insists: “Groupthink is a loser.” (91)

Amazingly, a key recommendation for the revival of the Republican Party depends on the support of Democrats. The report calls for bipartisan cooperation to relax campaign finance restrictions in order to strengthen the power and cohesion of the two national parties relative to “third-party groups.” The obvious targets are not just outside PACs but groups like the Tea Party that challenge the Republican Party’s claim to conservatism.

Even while suggesting ways to “raise corporate money,” the report calls on Republicans to adopt the Democrats’ class warfare and to attack bonuses and large CEO retirement packages. It rightly calls for Republicans to reach out to minorities through coalitions, then treats minorities like window-dressing, calling on the party to “elevate Hispanic leaders” as if it has not already done so--on merit, and more often than the Democrats.

There is very little in the report about how Republicans can improve their performance in the media. The only relevant recommendation is that “Republican leaders should participate in and actively prepare for interviews with The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, MTV and magazines such as People, UsWeekly, etc.”--left-leaning outlets that are often hostile and which are useless in mobilizing the core conservative voter base.

That is not to say Republicans should avoid those outlets, but to focus on them is also a mistake. The primary key to the Obama campaign’s success in 2012 was that it brought the Democrats’ base to the polls. Mitt Romney won independents in 2012, but lost the election. Until Republicans improve their communication with their own base--reaching out through conservative media, and new media in particular--their message will be lost.

Instead, the report recommends that Republicans reach out to organizations such as the NAACP--ignoring the fact that the NAACP’s policies are decidedly radical and do not even represent public opinion in the black community on issues such as voter ID and school reform. At the same time, the report implies that the GOP should back away from “Third-party groups that promote purity” (54)--an apparent swipe at the Tea Party.

The only part of the “Growth and Opportunity” report that has any real coherence is the section on fundraising. There, Chairman Priebus can boast some real successes. The report highlights the improvement in party finances, and also points out that the Romney campaign made improvements in efficiency, using a financial platform that coordinated “over $1 billion” between various groups through the efforts of only nine employees.

That fundraising role is where the RNC is most effective. Elsewhere, it can coordinate, but not control. The authors seem to realize this at times. They implicitly rebuke Karl Rove: “Washington should not try to dictate candidate choices. Voters will ultimately decide.” (47) Yet the authors cannot resist the urge to centralize. And rather than finding ways to sell conservative principles, they chart a leftward course--one that cannot win.


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