The GOP report makes a direct criticism of how the party's own presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, addressed Hispanics during the last election. In part because he took a strident tone on immigration issues, Romney won only 27 percent of Hispanic voters, the lowest percentage for a GOP nominee since 1996. Latino voters grew to 10 percent of the overall electorate for the first time in history and helped hand Obama a second term in 2012.
"If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence," it reads. "It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."
The report echoes what many Hispanic leaders have said for years, that the GOP's "position on immigration has become a litmus test," one which they have failed in past elections. As a result, the RNC report endorsed comprehensive immigration reform, saying that it is in line with "Republican economic principles."
"We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform," says the report. "If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."
To underscore how drastic a change this new tack represents for the GOP, look back to last August when the party adopted self-deportation, the policy that helped doom Romney, as part of its platform. The GOP sees changing its message on immigration as a crucial step in improving its outreach, not only to Latinos, but to rapidly growing Asian-American and Caribbean communities.
But the push to overhaul the party's approach on immigration has run into deep resistance from elements of the conservative movement, which have opposed such efforts for years. An immigration-reform panel that several included pro-reform speakers at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) received a cool reception from the audience of conservative activists. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is playing a central role in crafting an immigration reform bill in Congress, declined to mention the controversial topic altogether during his speech at the conference. Others at CPAC said that fundamental changes are immigration aren't needed to win back Hispanics.
"Now we're told our party must shift appeal to the growing Hispanic demographic," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "Let me say something about what appeals to Hispanics in states like Texas. It is the free enterprise agenda that allows small businesses to prosper, free of government interference. It is the policies that value the family unit as the best and closest form of government. It's the belief in life and the faith in God."
Priebus did not bring up immigration himself at the Press Club, but former White House press secretary, a co-author of the report, said that addressing immigration is a key step, albeit not the only one, to appeal to Latino voters.
"That's one of the many steps that we need to be taking. That is not in an of itself the answer," he said at a press conference Monday morning. "[But] I think things have changed substantially within the Republican community as a result of the last election," on the immigration issue.
Young voters are another segment of the population where the GOP has struggled mightily; Romney lost to Obama by 5 million votes among voters under the age of 30. The positions the GOP has adopted on social issues, such as gay rights, have contributed to that disparity, according to the report.
"There is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be," the report reads. "If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree."