RNC Report A Postmortem On Failed 2012 Election

After failing to take the presidency or U.S. Senate in 2012 and losing House seats, Republicans launched the "Growth and Opportunity Project" to understand what went wrong. Party Chairman Reince Priebus and others toured the country and released a report with recommendations on Monday.

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The Republican National Committee has issued its postmortem on the 2012 election and it's not pretty. The report was written as part of what the RNC calls its growth and opportunity project. The goal is to find out what went wrong in November and what the party needs to do to remain viable in national elections.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has the details.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The report is pretty brutal: The Republican Party is losing elections, it says, because of a widespread perception that it doesn't care about people. Young voters, it goes on to say, are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents.

And as RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said at the Press Club this morning, it's even worse than that.

REINCE PRIEBUS: There's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak. Our ground game was insufficient. We weren't inclusive. We were behind in both data and digital. And our primary and debate process needed improvement. So there's no one solution. There's a long list of them.

LIASSON: The report recommends a big new push on data collection, digital fundraising and mobile voter registration, areas where the Democrats are way ahead. And Priebus said the change must go beyond campaign mechanics. The GOP must also improve its image.

PRIEBUS: Focus groups described our party as narrow-minded, out of touch and, quote, "stuffy old men." The perception that we're the party of the rich, unfortunately, continues to grow.

LIASSON: To fix this problem, the RNC will make a $10-million investment in minority outreach, sending hundreds of paid workers into black, Asian and Hispanic communities. They'll create swearing-in citizenship teams to contact brand-new voters as soon as they become citizens.

Florida Republican strategist Sally Bradshaw is one of the five members of the commission that wrote the report.

SALLY BRADSHAW: We have to be a more welcoming party. We put voters in boxes, where we say this group, this coalition supports this issue or that issue. It's simply not true. If we don't have candidates and leaders in our party who will be more welcoming, who are willing to think bigger and talk about bigger issues, we don't have a chance to get our foot in the door on conservative principles.

LIASSON: Bradshaw says after a loss like 2012, the party is ready to change. But not all the recommendations are being embraced. Some grassroots conservatives, for instance, don't like a proposal to change the party's primary calendar, scheduling fewer debates and creating a shorter primary season. That would tend to favor establishment candidates who can raise large amounts of money up front.

Then there's the criticism from conservatives like Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review. He says the report's recommendations are too small.

RAMESH PONNURU: Let's be honest, President Obama got his 270th electoral vote in Colorado, and that's a state that he won by 5.3 points. There is not a micro-targeting or get-out-the-vote improvement that Republicans are going to make that is going to net them 5.5 percent of the vote in Colorado.

LIASSON: Ponnuru says the Republican Party has to do some deep rethinking about its policy positions. The RNC report doesn't discuss policy except to recommend that the party embrace comprehensive immigration reform. To Ponnuru, that's not enough.

PONNURU: You would never get the impression, for example, that Hispanics were one of the most pro-Obamacare constituencies in the country. So many Republicans seem to think that just being for comprehensive immigration reform is going to help them with these voters when, in fact, there's a whole range of economic issues where Republicans are going to have to change their approach if they are going to make some inroads.

LIASSON: And that's a discussion that will have to focus on a lot more than campaign mechanics. And it will have to involve Republican elected officials, presidential candidates and Republican primary voters.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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