In what they called the "most comprehensive post-election review" ever made of an electoral loss, the Republican National Committee and a group of project co-chairs unveiled a report today saying that they need to open their playbook and put their "cards on the table face up" in order to win presidential elections in the future.
While unveiling the 100-page report at the National Press Club today, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said he wanted the report, or autopsy, to be "honest" and "raw," stressing the message of inclusion to Americans who might not be on board with all the party's policies.
"Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren't inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement," Priebus said of Mitt Romney and the GOP's 2012 loss. "There's no one solution. There's a long list of them."
Read more about GOP Chair Reince Priebus's plans for the Republican Party.
The report, called the "Growth and Opportunity Project," lays out an extensive plan the RNC believes will lead the party to victory with an extensive outreach to women, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and gay voters. Among the plans: hiring paid outreach staffers across the country in a $10 million push that begins right away; backing "comprehensive immigration reform"; abbreviating the presidential primary process with fewer debates, specifically saying the party would like at least half the 20 there were during the 2012 cycle; and moving the convention to June or July, as well as improving the data and digital effort.
Priebus noted that the party's policies are fundamentally sound but require a softer tone and broader outreach, include a stronger push for African-American, Latino, Asian, women and gay voters.
"To be clear, our principles our sound, our principles are not old rusty thoughts in some book," Priebus said, but the "report notes the way we communicate our principles isn't resonating widely enough."
Priebus added: "I think our policies are sound, but I think in many ways the way we communicate can be a real problem."
The report also specifically states that there needs to be more inclusion. "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. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters."
Sally Bradshaw, a Florida GOP strategist and one of the project's co-chairs, said the party has been "continually marginalizing itself and unless changes are made it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future."
"Public perception of our party is at record lows," Bradshaw said. "Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents and many minorities think Republicans don't like them or don't want them in our country. When someone rolls their eyes at us they aren't likely to open their ears to us."
Bradshaw added that the GOP "needs to stop talking to itself" and needs to open the tent in order to win presidential elections in the future.
"We have become expert at how to provide ideological information to like-minded people but ,devastatingly, we have lost the ability to be persuasive with or welcoming to those who don't agree with us on every issue," Bradshaw said, noting they need to be "inviting and inspiring."
"Our standard should not be universal purity, it should be a more welcoming form of conservatism," Bradshaw said, bluntly adding that the party "needs to do better with women" and it needs to address the "unique concerns" women voters have.
The theme of inclusion continued with Glenn McColl, a national committeeman from South Carolina who insisted the party seems to some as "intolerant and unaccepting of differing points of view."
"If our party isn't welcoming and inclusive young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out," McColl said. "The party should be proud of its conservative principles but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues does not mean we can't come together on the rest of the issues we do agree on."
Before Priebus unveiled the report, the group, including the committeewoman from Puerto Rico, Zoraida Fonalledas, addressed the crowd of reporters in Spanish and she too stressed the need for a change in tone and for candidates to be compassionate and inclusive.
"If Hispanic Americans hear the GOP doesn't want them in the U.S.A.," Fonelledas said, "they won't pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn't matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy. If Hispanics think we don't want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."
The report was much more pointed in its critique of Mitt Romney, specifically pointing to his "self deportation" comment as turning off Hispanic voters.
Fonelledas added that theirs was not a "policy committee," but they believe the party should "embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform."
During Priebus' address, he focused on five areas where they are taking "immediate, substantive action," including "messaging, demographic partners, campaign mechanics, technology and the primary process."
The report has an extensive list of ways to reach out to voters of color, including recruiting candidates and outreach to universities, especially a "strong focus" on historically black colleges. The $10 million field program will begin immediately and hire hundreds of paid field workers to reach out to minority and female voters.
"We've never put this many paid boots on the ground this early in an off-year," Priebus said. "We have also never been this dedicated to win minority votes household to household."
As for how they will re-vamp their digital and data gathering processes, they will invest more money, encourage "innovation," but also head on the road holding "hackathons" in cities like San Francisco, Austin, New York and Denver.
They will also set out on a "digital road show" once their new digital and data plan is in place. They will also open an RNC field office in San Francisco.
The third element to the project called for a shorter primary process, comparing 2012's 20 debates to only six in 1980. The number now is not "rational" and they're calling for an earlier convention.
Such an overhaul takes money, of course, but Priebus says he has already discussed the changes with GOP donors and they are "ready to go."
Priebus was asked at the end of the event during a question-and-answer portion how he will make the language of the GOP more open to gay Americans and women and Priebus noted that Sen. Rob Portman's public reversal last week in which the Ohio Republican said he now supports same-sex marriage helps the message of openness.
"I think it's about being decent," Priebus said. "I think it's about dignity and respect that nobody deserves to have their dignity diminished or people don't deserve to be disrespected.
"I think that there isn't anyone in this room, Republican, Democrat or in the middle, that doesn't think that Rob Portman, for example, is a good conservative Republican.
"He is. And we know that. … I think that party leaders have to constantly remind everybody that we can't build a party by division and subtraction. We can only build the party by addition and multiplication. We get that and that's going to be our endeavor."
Priebus wouldn't say whether he would agree with Portman's decision, only saying, "It's his decision. It's not a matter of whether I support his decision. I support him doing what he wants to do as an elected person and as an American. If that's his opinion, then I support him having that opinion."
Although today's event was mostly focused on what went wrong in 2012 and the changes that will be made, there was some looking back at the time before Priebus arrived at the RNC.
He told the audience that the finances of the committee were in such disarray when he got there that its two credit cards were "suspended," and they were having a hard time making payroll. For awhile, Priebus said, he used his own credit card to make expenses for the RNC.
He was asked whether former RNC Chairman Michael Steele "ruined" the RNC, and although Priebus said he wouldn't "go there," he added "the numbers speak for themselves."
In conclusion, Priebus had a message for voters: "To those who have left the party, let me say this, we want to earn your trust again, to those who have yet to trust us, we welcome you with open arms."