They say that the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. The RNC, with the release of their 100 page critical examination of their failures in the 2012 election, has taken that big step. More important, the GOP doesn't simply address why they lost in 2012, they also admit that they may continue to lose in the future unless they make some changes.
Their conclusions are stark and the solutions direct:
"Our Party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch."
And, this: "We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities."
The folks at the RNC, Chairman Reince Priebus especially, deserve credit for putting their warts and all out there for everyone to see and judge.
However, identifying a problem is one thing. Fixing it is another. Even the authors of the RNC report admitted that "it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters."
And, here is where the road ahead is a tough one for the GOP.
It's not simply that Mitt Romney bombed among Latino and African Americans voters, it's that these Americans continue to hold a dismal view of the GOP. In a January Pew Research poll, 62 percent of non-whites, including Hispanics, said they viewed the Republican Party unfavorably, including 32 percent who viewed the GOP very unfavorably. On the flip side, 67 percent viewed the Democratic Party favorably--including 26 percent who perceived the Democratic Party very favorably.
Republicans will also need to spend resources to research many of the assumptions about where these voters sit on key policy issues. Many Republicans point to the "entrepreneurial spirit" of immigrant voters, but this doesn't mean that they dislike government.
As I've written before, some of the most basic tenants of GOP ideology are unappealing to the majority of Hispanics. As Washington Post reporters Aaron Blake and Sean Sullivan noted, a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey taken last summer found that 67 percent of Hispanics said they favor a “larger federal government with many services” over a “smaller federal government with fewer services.” Republicans expressed a dramatically different viewpoint in the poll, with 80 percent saying they prefer a “smaller federal government with fewer services.”
In the same poll, Blake and Sullivan report, 68 percent of Hispanics said it is more important to “increase federal spending to try to create jobs and improve the economy” than to avoid “a big increase in the federal deficit.” Seventy-three percent of Republicans said the latter is more important.
On Health Care reform, Hispanic and African-American views on the law are mirror image of those of white voters. A March Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that while 48 percent of whites had an unfavorable view of the law, 48 percent of Hispanics had a favorable view of it. Among African-Americans it was 55 percent. Meanwhile, a whopping 68 percent of Republicans dislike the law while just 19 percent of Hispanics say they do. So, while Republicans may now embrace immigration reform, their continuing call for repealing Obamacare puts up another barrier to winning over Hispanic voters.
Assumptions about the value systems and habits of these voters also need to challenged. For example, Gallup wrote recently about its study of Americans' religious behavior and found that "less than half of 18- to 29-year-old Hispanics are Catholic, significantly lower than the percentage Catholic among those aged 30 and older." However, the 29 percent of 18-29 year old Hispanics who identify as Protestant, say they are much more religious than Catholic Hispanics of the same age.
Even assumptions about how to reach out to Hispanics and other minority groups have to be incorporated into any change made by the RNC. As the Pew Hispanic Study Research Center wrote recently: "Latinos own smartphones, go online from a mobile device and use social networking sites at similar--and sometimes higher--rates than do other groups of Americans."
Reaching out to gay Americans provides another challenge for the GOP. While the country has moved substantially toward support for same-sex marriage, most of that movement has come from younger Americans and among non-Republicans. The latest polling from the Pew Research Center finds that, while "Democratic and independent support for gay marriage has steadily increased over the last decade... there has not been a commensurate shift in GOP opinion." On the question of whether gays marrying "undermines the traditional family," only "a third (33%) of Democrats now agree with the statement, while 63% disagree; in 2003 Democrats were evenly divided on this question. Republican opinions, in contrast, have remained more stable: 68% of Republicans say same-sex marriage would negatively impact the American family, little changed since 2003."
This means for a tricky balancing act for GOP candidates in a competitive primary. They need to be able to, in the words of the RNC report, "demonstrate" they "care" about those in the gay community, while also not alienating the GOP base.
At the end of the day, the recommendations of the RNC report are simply that--recommendations. The next step for the GOP will be to challenge many of the old conclusions and stereotypes that have driven the message and the delivery of that message to minority communities. The "Growth and Opportunity" project is only successful as the GOP is willing to grow beyond its current confines.
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