I thought I would take my opportunity to discuss the Republican National Committee's Growth and Opportunity Project and Chairman Reince Priebus' recent comments, as well as the comments of some conservatives in response to the report.
I read through the whole report, and heard much of the response, and a few things struck me:
Like most reports, or books by Malcolm Gladwell, it could have been summed up with many less pages and words. It probably just needed 15 pages instead of 100, but like most folks in Washington, D.C., the report's intended audience weighs substance by the pounds of paper. And to paraphrase what Mark Twain said: If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter. The best reports, meetings and articles are those that are succinct, clear and don't go on and on.
You have to give the RNC credit for acknowledging the obvious, which is the faults in messaging, data and structure -- and, most importantly, that the demography of the country is a huge problem for the Republican Party. The growth of minorities (especially Latinos and Asians), the increasing rise of a more secular population, the dissatisfaction of younger voters with Republicans, and women being a must-win voter group is spelling huge concern for the RNC and its candidates. The handwriting is on the wall, and some Republicans are finally beginning to admit reality.
My concern with this report is that it seems to be saying that the fault in connecting with this 21st century America is a public relations or a communications problem, that the party is behind in technology and tactics, or that the process of electing candidates is flawed. While all this may be true, the bigger imperative is Republicans need to enunciate values, a message, and policies that fit where America is today.
Still retaining its conservative heritage, Republican leaders need to have a 21st century conservative agenda and vision. It would be much better for the RNC and national leaders to spend resources and time on this modern agenda, rather than debate successful tactics. You can't sell customers food they don't want by changing the colors and fabrics at the restaurant and doing better direct marketing. You have to serve food people want.
Conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry have criticized this project by saying that the reason electoral losses have happened is because candidates weren't conservative enough and conservative turnout and enthusiasm was off. That is simply not true. It is another myth that has developed over the last few months.
Let's look at real data from the 2012 election returns and exit polls. By doing a little math, this data shows that nearly four million more conservative voters turned out in 2012 than turned out in 2004 when President Bush won re-election. Republican 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney got nearly 3 million more conservative votes than President Bush. So conservative turnout was not the problem.
Let me repeat this for emphasis: More conservatives turned out by huge numbers for Romney in 2012 than for Bush in 2004.
In 2012, almost seven million more liberal voters turned out than in 2004, and President Obama got close to six million more liberal votes than John Kerry did in 2004. In addition, President Bush lost moderate voters by nine points in 2004, and Romney lost moderate voters by 15 points in 2012. Thus, the deficit is not among conservatives, but among moderate voters.
While behind slightly in tactics and technology, as I have written before, that is not why Romney and Republicans lost in 2012. More conservative and evangelical voters turned out than in 2004 when Bush won, and President Obama actually underperformed in the 12 target states compared to his national number. This is a much more fundamental challenge.
The Republican brand and many of its candidates are seen as intolerant throwbacks to a time gone by and not compassionate to where people are in their lives. Their agenda just seems like a retread of a vision and policies from 30 years ago. It is not as if Democrats and President Obama have convinced America of their vision, it just looks more updated and acceptable than what the Republicans are enunciating.
Can this fundamental problem be fixed for Republicans? Yes, but like an alcoholic or drug addict, it seems leaders have not yet hit rock bottom and clearly admitted the truth to themselves: Many Republican candidates and what the party stands for are totally out of sync with the majority of America. Once this truth is openly admitted, they can begin to build an acceptable alternative to the Democrats.