The Top Five Priorities of the GOP

PHOTO: Republican Strategies
Greg Vote/Corbis

The Republican National Committee has laid out several areas of focus they believe are essential to victory in both 2014 and 2016. From technology to changes in the primary calendar, the GOP sent a message at their summer meeting last week in Boston that they have an ambitious agenda and want to do things differently. Much of the issues were outlined in their post 2012 autopsy called the "Growth and Opportunity Project," but last week they updated attendees as well as reporters on where they have gotten on those big goals originally outlined in March.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said this is when the "Republican permanent campaign was born. We want to be the party that takes no voter for granted and that fights to earn every voter's trust and I want 2013 to be the year people say it all began."

Will they succeed?

Here are the five biggest priorities of Republican Party.

1.
Technology

Priebus told the party's committee members last week "instead of constructing an operation and then breaking it down like the RNC's always done, we're laying a foundation on which we'll never stop building." The technology effort the RNC is focusing on will be led by the RNC's newly hired chief technology officer Andy Barkett, who came to the RNC from Facebook, and Chuck DeFeo, the RNC's new chief digital officer.

Priebus said with Barkett and DeFeo they will "foster(s) innovation with the work ethic of Silicon Valley" and the GOP "will be able to leapfrog Democrat's capabilities."

It's strong language, but he says it's because the party's "data operation won't be built around a single candidate; it will be built by and for the entire party," unlike the Obama campaign, and therefore it can be used at all levels of politics, from local races to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Barkett, an engineer who describes himself as someone who "builds" things, was frank during a briefing for reporters and acknowledged that there was still much work to be done.

"I'm worried that we are a little further behind in the data science," Barkett said, noting he thinks they are "further along" at "putting together some people who can build the plumbing and the technology than we are on the data science.

He thinks they will catch up to Democrats "pretty quickly" when it comes to more effective targeting of online advertising and gathering "big data" on voters.

Barkett said by the end of the year, he expects his team will have a "pretty comprehensive suite of voter relationship management tools," and while he acknowledged that he knows technologists tend to lean Democrat, he got so many e-mails when he announced his move to the RNC that he knows there are some Republican technologists out there.

"More of them are Democrats than Republicans, but not all of them," Barkett said. "I just need 30 really good ones."

He added that their technology is about voter targeting, including knowing what device a voter reads their e-mails on.

"It's part of having a better relationship with every voter, knowing how to communicate with them, knowing how they want to be communicated with, taking every piece of information that they give us, that they tell us about themselves so when they click on something saying 'I support this' or 'I support the repeal of Obamacare' or whatever it is, taking that piece of information and using it to understand them better," Barkett told reporters in Boston.

2.
Outreach

In its post-2012 autopsy, also called the "Growth and Opportunity Project," the RNC focused on reaching out to women, minorities, and younger voters, but the party is stressing outreach in general, moving from a battleground state focus to all 50 states, to better compete with Democrats.

Chris McNulty, the RNC's political director, told reporters the party has more than 150 staff members in the field and that number will grow to 200 by the end of next month. By the end of 2013, McNulty said they will have field staffers in all 50 states.

"What we're doing together is unprecedented for the RNC, for any party committee," Priebus told members in Boston. "We already have more people in the field than we do in headquarters. That's unheard of in an off-year. In some cases, that's unheard of in an election year."

Some of the party leaders who attended the confab said outreach was as much about tone as field work, stressing that after the occasional tone-deaf gaffes of some candidates last cycle, Republicans must learn how to communicate effectively and compassionately on issues such as abortion and immigration, amongst others.

"I think one thing we've got to do is stop saying stupid things and I think in 2012 we saw a lot of people who were unable to defend the classic, reasonable pro-life positions … and that offended half the people," Mississippi GOP Chairman Joe Nosef told ABC News in an interview. "We've got to be smart and effective and skilled enough to be able to talk about things like immigration, pro life, the economy, whatever it is in a way that's reasonable and doesn't distract away from our policies. And I think that's the key to next year and 2016."

Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker agreed, saying the party must "do a much better job of articulating why we are pro-life and why we believe in traditional family values."

"Part of it is we need to do a better job of explaining where we are on issues and why we are there and why our views are the most compassionate and are the views that are going to be the best for America," Spiker said. "When we can make the argument and make the case for our issues we are going to win again."

Mark Smiley, the GOP chairman from Rhode Island, acknowledged it's too early to tell "whether it's working."

"I don't know if all of the outreach that's going to be necessary will happen this election cycle -- I don't think it can be. There's been years of neglect to that segment of the voters," Smiley said. "It's going to take more than just two to four years to change that."

3.
Minorities and Younger Voters

The changing demographics of the country and the failure of the Republican Party to connect with minorities and younger voters in 2012 makes the issue critical for the 2016 presidential campaign. Without making headway in those communities, most of the party knows they could be looking at years of more losses, especially with the strides the Democratic Party has made with minority and female voters.

Priebus was asked whether the division over immigration in the party makes it hard to reach out to Hispanic voters and he said no. Instead the problem "as a party is that we haven't showed up," he said.

"If you are going to get the sale you got to ask for the order and I don't think we can be successful as a party by showing up once every four years, five months before an election. I think that's a huge problem," Priebus said. "I don't think that you can build authentic, real, genuine relationships showing up once every four years especially when the other side … is there year round."

Priebus said the party must "engage voters on a community level in a year round basis and that means lots and lots of bodies all over the country not at the RNC," including both volunteers and paid staffers in Asian, Hispanic, and African-American communities "talking to voters, recruiting" and doing "voter registration, community events."

"In an off year that's tough to do and we are getting it done," Priebus told reporters.

As for younger voters, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the lure should be to "offer them a better future" and the message should come from groups like the College Republicans.

"You look at people being required to live with their parents because they really can't afford an alternative. If we offer a believable better approach that leads them to say, 'Gee, this is a future I want,'" Gingrich said.

Though almost all Republicans agree they have much work to do on this front, Smiley says he's been able to reach out to minority voters in downtown Providence and they are "thirsty for our message."

"It's been very engaging and great discussions," Smiley said. "Once they understand what our positions actually are, they actually support us very quickly."

DNC Press Secretary Michael Czin said in a statement that "Republicans just don't get it – they lost in 2008 and 2012 because President Obama and Democrats were fighting for policies to improve the lives of middle class Americans."

"The simple truth is that while the RNC is focused on tactics, the fundamentals of the Republican Party are broken and the only way to fix it is by changing their policies," Czin added. "As long as Republicans oppose policies like equal pay legislation, commonsense immigration reform with a path to citizenship, marriage equality for all Americas and support policies that make it harder to vote and putting government between women and their doctors they will continue to lose major elections."

4.
The Presidential Primary Calendar

Though some Republicans believe longer primaries make for better general election candidates, shortening the presidential primary calendar is another must-do on the RNC's list. In 2012, Mitt Romney battled his opponents into April.

Priebus said that was "way too long." The party "should not be involved in setting up a system that encourages the slicing and dicing of candidates over a long period of time," he said.

"Our convention should not be in August. I think that our convention has got to get moved to no later than late June or maybe, maybe the early part of July," Priebus said.

So what can be done? At the summer meeting, named "Making It Happen," the party members decided to send the issue of the primary calendar to a subcommittee.

That subcommittee will meet to examine the primary process, including carving out states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. It will also examine the debates, the earliest dates states can hold their caucus or primary, and winner-takes-all vs. proportional awarding of delegates. The subcommittee had an initial meeting, but it will be a lengthy process and there will be no answer on these critical primary questions anytime soon.

The all important early states shouldn't be worried, though. Spiker said he has been part of the meetings where the party discusses the changes in the primary calendar and he said Priebus has been "very supportive" of keeping Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada as the first states where ballots are cast.

But Spiker said he believes the calendar has to be shorter for whoever their 2016 presidential candidate is to be more competitive.

"We do need to realize that the country is changing. The party is changing and in order to be competitive against the Democrats there are going to be things we have to do to shorten up the calendar," Spiker said.

5.
Debates

Namely, less of them. The RNC believes the amount of debates the party had last cycle, 23, seriously hurt Mitt Romney in the general election, making it easier for the Obama campaign to use some of the gaffe-filled moments or far-right language against him in the general election.

"The slicing and dicing … in the debates is a mess for our party," Priebus said.

The party also passed a resolution blocking NBC and CNN from partnering with the GOP for any presidential debates during the 2016 primary process because they did not cancel their pending films on Hillary Clinton.

Priebus received a standing ovation at the summer meeting's General Session when he mentioned the resolution, stressing the party wanted more control of the debate process and this was one way to do it.

"For the first time, our party rules allow us to take action on debates," Priebus said. "So it's time that we do what's right for our party and our candidates. And by the way, this is the right thing to do for voters. They're not going to get a real debate of substance if it's run by a network who wants to help out Hillary Clinton."

Having more control over the number of debates and debate schedule was also mentioned in the resolution, which says the party "shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen."

Ron Kaufman, the RNC committee member from Massachusetts and former Mitt Romney adviser, said the resolution and the prospect of the RNC's "taking charge" of the debate process is a "great idea."

"Republican primaries are about getting our message to our voters on issues we care about," Kaufman said. "If you go back to the [2012] Republican debates, how much time we spent on the issue we cared the most about, the economy, was minuscule."

Joe Nosef, the chairman of the Mississippi GOP, said he is "pleased that the party is aggressively advocating for both a fair and reasonable debate process."

"The seemingly endless circular firing squad during the primary process in 2012 was clearly not in the best interest of our party," Nosef said. "We can have a process that provides for robust debate of the issues without severely damaging our eventual nominee in the process."

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