March 18, 2013 -- The Republican Party is giving itself somewhat of an ultimatum: improve at courting racially diverse and young voters or be condemned as a perennial loser at the national level.
That's a core message of a comprehensive report that the Republican National Committee (RNC) will release Monday, which proposes wholesale changes to the way the party operates in the wake of back-to-back losses in presidential elections. That includes how the party identifies and reaches out to voters, uses data and technology, raises money, conducts presidential primaries, and confronts campaign finance laws that have given rise to deep-pocketed super PACs.
But the transformation put forth by the committee is sure to encounter resistance from entrenched corners of the GOP and the conservative movement as the right looks to win back the White House.
The 97-page report, commissioned by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, is blunt about the mistakes the party has made in past elections, especially when it comes to alienating some of the fastest-growing groups in the country that have gained increasing political influence, such as Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and people under the age of 30. The report offers up a roadmap for the GOP to shed its reputation as an "out of touch" party full of "stuffy old men" and eventually earn more votes from the aforementioned groups in national elections.
"The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic, community, or region of this country," Priebus said Monday morning in a speech unveiling the report at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The RNC wants to prove it's serious about revamping its image after losing two straight presidential elections by launching a renewal project titled the "Growth and Opportunity Project." The initiative will include a $10 million push to reach out to Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American voters.
Party officials, including Priebus, traveled to 12 different cities over the course of three months to meet with local leaders and conduct focus groups with diverse groups of voters, in an effort to find out how the party went off track. Research included a poll of 2,000 Republican Hispanic voters, according to the the report. The report, drafted by a five-person committee, makes over 200 suggested changes that the party could choose to adopt.
When it comes to how the GOP has treated voters from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, the report makes no excuses.
It acknowledges that population growth in the Hispanic, Asian, African-American communities will make the United States a majority-minority nation by 2050 and that President Obama won a whopping 80 percent of those voters in the last two elections. Put more simply, the GOP's strategy of relying on older, whiter voters is becoming unsustainable.
"Public perception of the party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country," the report reads. "When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us."
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."
The report comes as several top Republicans, including Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), have abandoned their opposition to gay marriage. But the vast majority of Republicans still oppose gay marriage and a full-scale shift on the issue by the party could alienate socially conservative voters who have been a bedrock GOP constituency for years.
The party report says it also must revamp its core economic message to appeal to middle-class voters and those hurt by the recession. That doesn't mean swaying from the GOP's small-government philosophy, but it does mean making some populist tweaks.
"We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare," it reads.
Priebus acknowledged that "stupid things were said" in the last election that hamstrung GOP candidates and said the party needs to build a presence to communicate with alienated voters. But he refused to condemn some of the more strident voices in the party on social issues, such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, or specifically endorse gay marriage. Instead, he said, all viewpoints should be welcome in the GOP.
"I think our whole team is a blessing," he said after his speech on Monday. "I think the idea that everyone on the team, Republican and conservative,you're welcome in the door. That attitude goes for everybody ... I'm not in the business of throwing anyone under the bus."
Beyond policy shifts, the report recommends building up the party's infrastructure to address these groups. It calls for the hiring of national political directors and advisory councils specifically for Asian-American, Hispanic and African-American voters to develop more sophisticated outreach and voter-targeting strategies, increasing engagement with Hispanic media, recruiting more minority candidates and installing minorities in key party leadership roles, not just "pigeonhole[ing]" them into "demographic outreach" positions.
Most importantly, it says that the GOP must engage year-round every year in minority communities, where Democrats have often been established for years, in order to make inroads. On Monday Priebus suggested that Republicans talk with groups "with which we've had minimal contact in the past," such as the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza.
It even suggests that the party use somewhat guerilla-style tactics to reach immigrant and minority communities, such as having outreach officials attend swearing-in ceremonies for newly naturalized citizens. For young voters, the RNC report tells candidates to appear on popular Comedy Central shows the Daily Show and the Colbert Report and to speak with magazines like People and Us Weekly. It also calls for the party to mobilize more conservative-leaning celebrities.
"We have to stop divorcing ourselves from the American culture," Priebus said.
It's clear that the party believes it must leave no no stone unturned.
"Unless the RNC gets serious about tackling this problem, we will lose future elections," the report says. "The pervasive mentality of writing off blocks of states or demographic votes for the Republican Party must be completely forgotten. The Republican Party must compete on every playing field."
This story was updated on March 18, 2013 at 10:29 AM