This week, the Republican National Committee released its Growth & Opportunity Report, a compendium of all of the lessons the party learned from the 2012 elections, and what the Washington Post calls an "autopsy" of what went wrong.
If you break it down, the report focuses most on demographics and branding. The RNC rightly recognizes how associated the GOP has become with rich, white men -- and draws the conclusion that the party must attract more minorities, more young people, and more women to the party, and take a different approach to marketing the party in pop culture. The report says this:
On messaging, we must change our tone -- especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters.
Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress already did a great job of analyzing the pop culture goals of the GOP, and I agree with her: Most of the celebrities associated with the GOP are either crazy (Ted Nugent), racist (Hank Williams Jr.), creepy (Jon Voight), or Chuck Norris. I wanted to focus more on the report's suggestions, and the new branding of the GOP.
The report makes great points -- it says the Republican Party must appeal to people outside the Republican Party, which can't even agree with itself right now (I'll get to that). It advises the party to adopt a better regional primary system so that fringe candidates like Christine O'Donnell don't beat established moderates like Mike Castle. It suggests that the Republican Party starts an opposition research and tracking operation, in the same vein as left-leaning powerhouse (and my former employer) American Bridge.
But the suggestions of the report are purely surface suggestions -- they're about messaging, not about policy. House Republican leadership and CPAC participants don't seem ready to follow that report. These two groups within the GOP are proof the party can't get their ducks in a row, and shows how far the once fiscally responsible and socially conservative party has skewed to the right.
With regards to messaging, there have been some great examples of moderate Republicans supporting social issues like LGBT marriage equality and women's reproductive rights, but they're progressive exceptions to a stagnant Republican rule. The same week that Senator Rob Portman endorsed LGBT marriage rights, tanning enthusiast and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he would continue to oppose LGBT marriage even if his child were LGBT. And if you read further into the report, it says that the party should continue to stick to its outdated and discriminatory principles -- they just should do so more quietly.
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. 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.
If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree."
(I'm not even discussing the War on Women. Deny it all they want, the GOP has rolled back reproductive rights and blocked equal pay for women across the country for no reason. The party has serious work to do if they want to cozy up to the lady voters, and it's going to take a hell of a lot more than messaging to do it)
So the report is saying that the GOP can stay as conservative as they want, they just have to sound less awful. The baffling part is, the party can't even agree on this plan -- right now, the split is between more open-minded moderates who want to appeal to a wider base, and more conservative Tea Partiers who believe that lambasting their moderate colleagues and going after the "Guns and God" vote will endear them to everyone.
The RNC was trying to tell its party members how they need to rebrand themselves as more diverse and open minded, and willing to compromise with outsiders. But you would never be able to tell by watching the CPAC conference -- a conference that left supposedly moderate Republicans like Chris Christie off the roster in favor of reality TV has-been Sarah Palin, pretend businessman Donald Trump, and McCarthy-lite Senator Ted Cruz.
The party got too caught up trying out a shiny new rebranding strategy without trying to modernize their tired, anti-minority, anti-women and anti-poor product to match. Instead of evolving, they point fingers at each other -- they blame someone else for their troubles rather than turning inward and realizing that their branding isn't the problem, as Meghan McCain's "I Hate Karl Rove" rant shows.
The GOP lost the last few elections because they had awful ideas behind their ad campaigns. They are the New Coke of party politics -- and like the soda, they're not selling. Because they're gross.
The RNC's report has great intentions, trying to liven up the party a bit and make them look more like the cool, progressive rainbow coalition that voted for Obama and less like the corporation-backed, wealthy old white men that everyone (accurately) perceives them to be. The problem is, the party leadership doesn't want to change its outdated ways and attitudes towards minorities, LGBT people and women, or try to appeal to working class Americans. They just want to look good while they continue to discriminate, and to keep public embarrassments like Rape Gate and "I'm Not A Witch" from reaching the masses.
They want to win again. But until they stop arguing with each other and stop legislating like they have, it's not going to happen that easily.