(WASHINGTON) — It’s been a year since the Republican Party unveiled their “Growth and Opportunity Project,” otherwise known as the GOP autopsy. Launched after the 2012 presidential loss, five leaders from the Republican Party came together to try and make sure a wipe-out like that never happens again by making key changes.
Sally Bradshaw, the Republican National Committee committeewoman from Florida, described the report on a conference call Monday as a “comprehensive look at where we failed” after “own(ing)” up to their “loss.”
Last week’s GOP victory in an open House race in Florida has the party confident for 2014, but what has the Republican Party really accomplished this year and what do they still need to do?
FIVE THINGS REPUBLICANS ACCOMPLISHED SINCE 2012
1. Data, Digital and Technology
There was just no comparison in 2012 between the Obama campaign’s digital and data superiority and the Romney campaign’s and that became crystal clear on Election Day when the Romney campaign’s highly touted Project Orca was a complete failure. But the RNC says they have made a “multimillion (dollar) investment in this area.” They have hired a chief technology officer, chief digital officer and chief data officer, and have hired other staff in those fields, as well as opening an office in Silicon Valley. They also launched something called “Para Bellum Labs,” which they describe as a “start-up initiative” to recruit a talent pool on the tech side and to develop voter data tools for the whole party.
2. Taking Control of the Primary Process
At the RNC Winter meeting in January, the party approved rule changes to make the GOP primary shorter by pushing up the nominating convention by nearly two months to June or early July instead of late August when both conventions are traditionally held. It’s something RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has made a priority for the party to eliminate what he calls a “slice and dice festival” and shorten the time the Republican candidates battle it out. In order to make the convention earlier, primary contests will be even more compressed and any states trying to jump ahead of the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will face stiff penalties. On the call, Henry Barbour, RNC committeeman from Mississippi, said these changes will put them in a “strong position” for 2016, adding their new rules will limit debates and “make sure we pick our moderators and not just take whoever is offered to us. It will make us stronger as we head into 2016.”
3. Party Outreach
There is no doubt the party has a long way to go on this front, but they have hired national and field staff to communicate with traditionally Democratic constituencies like African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Pacific voters. In the report, the authors noted the party must “stop talking to itself” and Priebus went on a listening tour around the country making stops in parts of the country that don’t usually vote for the GOP. They have also been trying to woo younger voters and women — both will be critical if they are to win the White House back. The party says 91 percent of their political staff is in the states, including “data directors and minority engagement staffers” in 2014 states spending over $12 million in political and state party spending. What’s clear is they are doing outreach and have hired staff to connect directly with minority groups, but what isn’t clear yet is if it’s working, although the RNC says their outreach tools helped their FL-13 victory. Glenn McCall, RNC committeeman from South Carolina, said he has been “excited” to see how the party has “engaged ethnic communities across the country,” including hiring more field staff as they recommended and traveling to “various communities we have never gone to before,” adding he has heard “a lot of positive feedback.” McCall also noted that “staffing people of color in various communities across the country” will not be “just an election year activity” and instead will be “year round.” McCall acknowledged there is a long way to go, saying the party isn’t where they want to be yet, but they “feel like we are making solid progress.”
4. Not Just the RNC
The authors say it’s not just the Republican National Committee that is taking their recommendations, their message is also being received by candidates and committees as well. The authors say this communication is going well and in an op-ed Tuesday on RealClearPolitics they continue to urge candidates to “engage with all communities and people of all backgrounds so that voters conclude that the GOP is a welcoming and inclusive party.” Barbour said it’s this type of cooperation and communication with the committees that will help them “hold on to the House, take the Senate” and gain gubernatorial seats.
The best example the GOP has to point to is their big win last week when David Jolly beat Alex Sink in the open House seat in Florida’s 13th district. It’s buoyed the party’s hopes for 2014 and the RNC says some of the recommendations from the autopsy report were used in this victory like a “new precinct organizing structure” and new “data driven tools that helped identify and message voters” including a new canvassing app to gather data and a new voter scoring tool to identify voters. They say this is their “new political model,” which they will use across the country this year.
FIVE THINGS THEY STILL NEED TO DO
1. Immigration Reform
This is a biggie and there has been no movement since comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed in the Senate with bipartisan support last summer. Reaching out to Hispanic voters is a high priority for the GOP and it is critical for their party if they are to win another presidential race. The importance is something the authors acknowledge: “We obviously recommended that Republicans support immigration reform generally,” Barbour said. “We will continue to encourage people along those lines.” While Bradshaw pointed to state immigration legislation, Zori Fonalledas, the RNC committeewoman from Puerto Rico said. “Our congress is the one that has to take the leadership, we only make recommendations.” Barbour then added: “It’s a big party and we aren’t going to agree on everything, but certainly what we encourage was that we deal with the issue immigration reform, we didn’t try to dictate precisely what the policy has to be.”
The Obama campaign’s organization dwarfed the Romney campaign’s in 2012 and although the party has made gains as described above, much must still be done, something acknowledged on the conference call by Barbour, who said he believes they have made progress, but “it is such a huge undertaking,” that will take “years, not months.”
3. LGBT Outreach
In the report, the authors said the GOP must appeal to younger voters even if it means they do not “agree on every issue,” noting they need to “make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view.” “Already, 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 authors wrote a year ago, but it’s not clear how the party has reached out to gay voters. There are two openly gay House candidates this year, and a superPAC has been formed to help fund them and other future gay Republican candidates, but the party’s official stance against gay marriage can’t help their efforts. At the Conservative Political Action Conference this year they still would not let the gay conservative group GOProud have a booth and the controversy around Arizona’s SB 1062, despite being vetoed by Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, passed the statehouse with a majority of Republican support. Even Republican leaders like Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee said they would have signed it.
4. Social Issues
Especially with younger voters, the numbers show they are more likely to approve of same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, and even young Republicans are likely to be libertarian in nature — something on display at this month’s CPAC. In last year’s report, the authors said when it comes to social issues the party must be “inclusive and welcoming” stressing “if we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues.” But it’s clear that for many members of the party the social issues, including abortion, are of utmost importance. In over 11 states, primarily Republican-led legislatures have passed laws banning abortions after 20 weeks at the urging of anti-abortion rights groups. Democrats have used these laws to perpetuate the “war on women” argument and dominate headlines at the same time some members of the GOP are trying to broaden their message to voters that don’t view social issues as a top priority.
5. Policy over Communications
Priebus has said repeatedly it’s not the party’s policies that need to change, but the way they communicate those policies. “To be clear, our principles our sound, our principles are not old rusty thoughts in some book,” Priebus said a year ago when the autopsy was released, adding the “report notes the way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough.” Priebus added: “I think our policies are sound, but I think in many ways the way we communicate can be a real problem.” But it’s clear that some policies, from immigration reform to the lack of renewal of Unemployment Insurance, are hurting their broader outreach. It should be noted that some Republican leaders including Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Rand Paul have advocated for policy changes that would try to cut poverty and income inequality, but their efforts have not gone beyond convincing addresses, stymied by the broader party.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
John Newsome and Anne Woolsey, CNN