Politics 2013: Report on the GOP a 'five-alarm blast,' but will people act?

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |  March 24, 2013 at 4:03 AM
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The sweeping report on problems facing the Republican Party calls for a lot of soul-searching and rethinking if the GOP wants to emerge from the identity muck in which it is wallowing after having lost the last two U.S. presidential elections.

Among other things it calls for outreach to minority populations and women -- demographics that didn't cozy up to 2012 standard-bearer Mitt Romney -- as well as upgrade its data collection technology and shake up the primary process.

But it also is a call to arms, a wake-up call to a party in the throes of a crisis. And a blunt one, to boot.

"This is a really expansive report and in a kind of startling way, honest," said Lawrence Jacobs, director for the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute and Department of Political Science.

The report -- the Growth and Opportunity Project -- tackled difficult issues that have pointed up rifts, such as immigration reform. (The report can be found at http://growthopp.gop.com/default.aspx)

"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. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all," the report released last week said.

That is "one huge policy shift," Jacobs said of the report commissioned after the presidential loss last year. "Very unusual for this kind of report -- this is as close to a five-alarm blast that you're going to get from a party organization."

The report is the product of a committee led by National Republican Committee Chairman Reince Priebus' allies and backers, including Henry Barbour of Mississippi, nephew of former governor and RNC chairman Haley Barbour; former George W. Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer; and Sally Bradshaw, a longtime adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who's been signaling recently his interest in a 2016 presidential run.

Political parties are set up to win elections and losses can lead to discussions about candidate selection, timing or talent proffered by the other party -- typical fodder in an election post-mortem.

But this report also is a "strident call for a shift in policy and politics," Jacobs said.

"This is like a first step in recovery -- acknowledging the problem," he said. "This is very strikingly unusual."

Priebus said on Fox News the report was a "full-blown analysis" of everything "from mechanics to campaign finance law."

He said he and the report's authors traveled across the country and conducted listening sessions, and talked to more than 50,000 people about the election, "things that they perceived went well, what the other side did well, what we didn't, things that we didn't do that people wished we did."

The report and its 219 recommendations make clear "there's no one reason we lost," Priebus told the National Press Club last week in Washington. "Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren't inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement."

And as there was no one particular reason Romney lost to President Obama, "there's no one solution," Priebus said. "There's a long list of them."

Stressing that the view wasn't coming from the president, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, he thinks "it's important to note that the best way to increase support with the public for your party is to embrace policies the public supports. And embracing policies the public does not support or aggressively rejects, makes it more difficult to earn the public's support."

The report diagnosed that the Republican Party has huge problems and is out of step with the fastest growing demographic of the electorate and asks how existing conditions square with the party's policies, Jacobs said.

"The theme here is: Will the Republican Party catch up with America," said Jacobs, the Walter F. and Joan Mondale chair for Political Studies. "The party's rigid position is 'old America.' Trying to exclude new citizens ... is not keeping up with new America."

The report, he said, was harsh but it "spoke the truth."

How the GOP can resolve its philosophical schisms remains open, Jacobs said because there are "deep disagreements and there is no enforcing."

Any change -- if it's coming -- won't happen overnight. But the report is a start.

Democrats went through a similar drift following the 1966 elections and were basically "in the wilderness from 1966 through [the] 1992 presidential election," Jacobs said. "They were in the desert searching for their identity."

Republicans probably are "looking at a decade or more of searching for a new identity," he predicted.

Initial response has been mostly mute because the Republican Party is "too large an operation and too decentralized," he said. "This party is the thousands of people who show up at precincts or conventions. It's a sprawling ... operation," not an entity that can tell one faction to get on board or get off the bus.

"I don't think there's anyone going to put the Tea Party out on the side of the road," Jacobs said. "The Ron Paul [the former U.S. representative from Texas] faction is very powerful in a lot of states. [Sen.] Rand Paul [of Kentucky, Ron Paul's son] gets a lot of respect."

"I give the Republican Party and the writers of this report a lot of respect," Jacobs said. "This is an unusual thing for party to do. It's unusually honest about the challenge. The question now is what does the party do about it."

"Strap in folks," Jacobs said. "I think it's going to be a protracted struggle."

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