The GOP lost what it thought was an eminently winnable presidential election in 2012, and while redistricting paid off in the House, the GOP also saw, somewhere between Missouri and Indiana, its hopes of retaking the Senate take a turn for the worse.
Now, between the activist base licking its wounds at CPAC, and the RNC establishment seeking to renew themselves for the midterms, the official post-mortem period has begun, and “rebranding” is all the rage.
"The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself." That’s a line from a new “autopsy" of the 2012 election written for Republicans, by five Republicans, who spoke mostly to current Republicans, when they weren’t talking to former Republicans. It’s a start! If they were smart, they would talk to some of the many Republicans, mentioned by name in this Robert Draper article, chronicling the many young and tech-savvy GOP activists who are now on the Great “I Told You So” Tour of 2013.
The report authors, in their nearly 100-page offering, have a fairly simply message: Drop the divisive social policy stuff, stop offending people, and, instead, talk to them like human beings with their own hopes, dreams and fears. You know, give this “empathy” stuff a try. "The perception that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party," deadpans the report.
Seems reasonable enough. But along the way, the report also spits out a bit of unintentional hilarity that shows just how deep a hole 40 years of the Southern strategy has dug.
The plan, for instance, suggests that the GOP "convene national and state focus groups with non-Republican ethnic groups in an effort to gain insight as to real and perceived issues affecting their communities." First off, describing someone's issue as "perceived" is like apologizing by saying, "Hey, I'm sorry you're so ugly," or, at best, "I'm sorry you were offended."
Assuming an issue is only perceived is immediately to discredit it. So maybe ... you know, just as a thought exercise, they could spend some time considering the possibility that their own misperceptions play a role in their inability to reach people.
But beyond that, pray tell: What on God's good and green earth is a "non-Republican ethnic group?" We assume they're trying to say blacks and Latinos without saying it, but it begs the reverse question: What would count as a "Republican ethnic group." White people, maybe? But it's not like they have a lock on white folks.
A bit later the report refers to a group of people known as "ethnic conservatives." What, did they come over on the Mayflower, or something?
The report does get a bit more specific later on. The GOP begins its analysis by identifying where its support is soft: "Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Indian Americans, Native Americans, women, and youth." In other words, huge swaths of what is commonly referred to as “America.”
When it comes to women, the report observes that, "women are not a 'coalition.' They represent more than half the voting population in the country." The paper goes on to talk about them as a monolithic entity throughout.
"Female voters want to hear the facts; many of them run the economies of their homes and understand economics better than the men in their families. But they are also the caregivers for their families," the GOP committee tells us, circa 1955.
Amazingly, some of this stuff was echoed at CPAC:
“Single white women run screaming from the Republican Party, largely because of our pro-life position,” Morris said. Morris stressed that Republicans can remain pro-life in principle, but needed to shift their focus away from the courts and embrace polices like “adoption, adoption tax incentives, birth control, abstinence, parental notification, parental support … a whole range of efforts, some sponsored by the right, some sponsored by the left.”
Overturning Roe v. Wade, he said, was “a case we’re never going to win.”
Yes, you read that correctly. That’s all coming from Dick Morris, the 2012 election cycle’s biggest pundit-laughingstock, suddenly and without much warning making sense. Morris went on to opine, “Let’s get away from the hypnotic phrase ‘balanced budget,’ and stop being accountants and start being politicians,” which ... again ... makes ... a lot of sense, actually? This is a pretty dangerous time for Morris to start getting shrewd.
But we digress. The final nut that the GOP needs to crack is the youth vote. And we have a funny feeling that the “autopsy” may not have accurately captured how much work needs to be done. After all, they seem to believe one asset they have in winning over the youngs is the fact that they "have a youthful RNC chairman, Reince Priebus."
Yep, nothing really quite fires the imagination of America’s youth like a 41-year-old lawyer from Wisconsin. But if the kids aren't won over the uber-hipness of Mr. Priebus, the GOP is not out of ideas: Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force." Uh-huh. If Ted Nugent's not in jail or dead, maybe he can chair it. If he can’t chair it, maybe Clint Eastwood can yell at the chair.
But look: Lest you think the party is talking about some sort of wholesale transformation, think again. It just wants to use data and technology to inch it across 50 percent: "This work is essential in helping the Party, particularly at the presidential ballot level, identify and understand how to build a '50+1' coalition of of voters that will overcome our demographic challenges," offers page 27.
That’s not a bad way to approach the problem, so long as you grapple with the real lives of these voters, many of whom don’t look at a government providing services to the citizenry and immediately think “OMGZ TYRANNY.” This is where a willingness to stop treating voters as if their problems are merely “perceived issues” comes in handy. Underlying these efforts, unfortunately, will be a series of training sessions so awkward Michael Scott might even be tugging at his collar.
We want to be a fly on the wall for these: "Because we can't expect to address these demographic groups if we know nothing about them, this new [minority outreach] organization should establish a training program available to all Republican candidates that would educate them on the particular culture, aspirations, positions on issues, contributions to the country, etc., of the demographic group they are trying to reach."
Sounds like the GOP has a few “hip-hop barbecues” in their future.