In the wake of a defeat that somehow came as a true surprise to many Republicans, the Republican National Committee under the leadership of Reince Priebus commissioned what came to be known as the GOP’s autopsy of its 2012 campaign, the fifth time in the previous six presidential contests in which it had lost the popular vote.
Officially titled “The Growth and Opportunity Project,” the report concluded that “public perception of the party is at record lows,” and it warned that with looming and irreversible demographic changes already underway, serious changes in messaging and voter outreach would be required if the party hoped to compete at the national level in 2016 and beyond.
So with fewer than 90 days until Election Day 2016, let’s take a look at both the specific recommendations that were laid out in the report, and then look at the success or lack of success it has enjoyed, as reflected in current polling:
1.) “The Republican Party must focus its efforts to earn new supporters and voters in the following demographic communities: Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Indian Americans, Native Americans, women, and youth. This priority needs to be a continual effort that affects every facet of our Party’s activities… Unless the RNC gets serious about tackling this problem, we will lose future elections; the data
2.) “Similar to the approach it must take with other demographic communities, the RNC must embark on a year-round effort to engage with African American voters…. The African American community has a lot in common with the Republican Party, and it is important to share this rich history. More importantly, the Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.”
3.) “Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents… Our Party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch. For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. On messaging, we must change our tone — especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters.”
4. “Be conscious of developing a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women…. Republicans need to make a better effort at listening to female voters, directing their policy proposals at what they learn from women, and communicating that they understand what a woman who is balancing many responsibilities is going through. Too often, female voters feel like no one listens to them. They feel like they are smart, engaged and strong decision makers but that their opinions are often ignored.”
5.) “… 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. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only….. On issues like immigration, the RNC needs to carefully craft a tone that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the Hispanic community.”
The problem, of course, is that none of this is in the least surprising. If you were to design a presidential candidate who embodies the exact opposite of what Priebus and other Republican strategists had recommended, that person would stand before us as Donald J. Trump. It’s also important to note that Trump didn’t become the GOP’s nominee despite the animosity that he has expressed to women and minorities and to the changing national culture that millenials think of as perfectly natural. That animosity has been his primary appeal to GOP primary voters, and his primary obstacle in appealing beyond that base.
So while I doubt that it will be of any comfort to Priebus on the morning of Nov. 9, the Priebus of early 2013 got it exactly right. He just didn’t have a party in the mood to execute it.