Republicans Slow To 'Reset' Despite Election Autopsy Report

A few months ago, the Republican National Committee released several recommendations for broadening the party's voter appeal. The report told the GOP to reach out to women, younger voters and Hispanics. But so far, that has not been the direction party leaders have taken in Congress or in the media.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's dig a little deeper now into that Republican approach to immigration reform. Three months ago, the Republican National Committee unveiled its Growth and Opportunity Project, essentially a post-mortem of what went wrong for Republicans in 2012. It said there needed to be a shift in tone to appeal to young people, women and Latinos. And the report made a single policy recommendation: Pass immigration reform.

NPR's Mara Liasson explores why that has been such difficult advice to follow.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The RNC's autopsy report helped reveal some of the deepest internal conflicts in the Republican Party, says Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who now runs the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

DAN SCHNUR: The challenge for the report is it's a very, very smart template for electing a Republican president of the United States. But a lot of GOP House members, particularly the more conservative members, don't see it as being particularly relevant. And, in fact, many see it as detrimental to their own prospects for reelection.

LIASSON: Not surprisingly the Democratic Party is taking every opportunity to showcase the gap between the report's recommendations and the actions of rank and file Republicans. The DNC recently put out a video, highlighting events like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A chorus of boos rained down on House Republicans as they passed Congressman Steve King's measure to deport the children of undocumented immigrants...

LIASSON: Republicans interested in a reset for the party are worried about immigration, because the number of Hispanic voters is exploding. Every year half a million more Hispanics become eligible to vote. But in the House of Representatives, only 10 percent of Republican-held districts are more than 25 percent Hispanic. And that's one reason why, after 14 Republicans joined Democrats to pass a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate, the House is balking.

But Ari Fleischer, one of the three authors of the RNC report says he's still optimistic that in the end, the House will find a way to pass an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship.

ARI FLEISCHER: I also think that a lot of House Republicans, even ones who come from districts with hardly a significant Hispanic electorate, they're keenly aware of the overall demographic problems Republicans have. They know Republicans can't win the White House if it continues. So I'm not willing to reach a conclusion about House of Representatives in 2013, yet, because the game is only half played. I still think the House is going to get it done.

LIASSON: But in the meantime, says Dan Schnur, national Republicans will have to change the way they sell the bill to their congressional colleagues.

SCHNUR: As long as the central message from Republican Party leadership is do this because it's important politically, it's unlikely that they're going to convince enough Republican voters or enough Republican Congressional members that it's a step worth taking.

LIASSON: And it's even worse because House Republicans are hearing the same message from their arch enemies, Senate Democrats. Here's South Carolina Republicans Congressman Trey Gowdy on Fox News Sunday after hearing New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer say, once again, that the House needs to pass the immigration bill so that Republicans can compete in presidential elections.

REPRESENTATIVE TREY GOWDY: I was moved almost to the point of tears by Senator Schumer's concern for the future prospects of the Republican Party, but we're going to not take his advice. Our framers gave us two legislative bodies and I assume that they did it for a reason. And the House runs every two years with the theory being that we will be closer to the will of the people.

LIASSON: And that is one of the problems the Republicans face because of the way House districts are drawn, the people - or at least the people who vote in Republican House districts - are older, whiter and more rural than the people who vote in presidential elections. Dan Schnur says the practice of gerrymandering safe House seats can be self-defeating because most House Republicans are only worried about a primary challenge from the right.

SCHNUR: If you think of it from the perspective of a member of the House of Representatives, what they learn very quickly is that because they reside in a safe seat, you can do anything you want and keep coming back to Congress for as long as you want with one exception. You can't cooperate with the other side. You can't compromise. You can't reach across party lines 'cause then you're going home.

LIASSON: The mighty fortress of redistricting protects the Republican House majority, but, says GOP strategist Alex Lundry, it can also lead to a kind of political distortion field.

ALEX LUNDRY: That's the hard thing, the off cycle is - it's a different electorate, and we have to remember that, that it is a different electorate. We need to be careful that we don't learn the wrong lessons.

LIASSON: The wrong lessons for Republicans would be to conclude that what works in the 2014 mid terms will work in the 2016 presidential race. In 2014, in mostly safe House seats and in the red states where Senate Republicans hope to make their gains, the GOP will be appealing to an electorate that favors them. Two years later, they'll have to turn around and try to reach out to a younger, browner electorate that tilts Democratic.

It's a hard circle to square, and even Ari Fleischer, the author of the RNC autopsy, seems resigned to these conflicting political imperatives.

FLEISCHER: The reality is that elections come up one election at a time and people will deal with realities of 2014 and 2014 will deal with the realities of 2016 and 2016.

LIASSON: And that may mean the real Republican reset won't get underway until the party has a national leader trying to appeal to a national electorate three years from now. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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