Viewpoint: The GOP Searches for a New Strategy — in All the Wrong Places

The Republican Party's post-election reckoning is not going well.

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Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gavels the opening of the second session of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 28, 2012.

The dust had barely settled on the Republican Party’s drubbing in November when party leaders called for a through examination of what went wrong. “We’ve got to give our political organization a very serious proctology exam,” said Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor. “We need to look everywhere.” The GOP had just lost the White House and dropped seats in the House and Senate. If the first step to fixing the problem is admitting you have one, Republicans took that first step with alacrity.

Nearly three months later, however, the great Republican reckoning hasn’t gotten much further. It’s not that they aren’t trying. The Republican National Committee set up a ethnically diverse working group of party elders to solicit input and devise a plan for the future. The House GOP held a seminar on how to communicate with minorities and women, groups that spurned them en masse in November. Pollsters were summoned to advise members to stop talking about rape. Strategists wielded stats underlining the demographic changes that could consign the party to permanent-minority status if it can’t find a way to broaden its base. All of these are important steps. But for all the bracing talk, the GOP is still ignoring its deepest liability: not its tone, but the substance of its policies.

That was apparent from a pair of buzzy speeches delivered at the RNC‘s winter meeting, at a hotel in Charlotte, N.C., where the party’s brain trust spent three days last week mulling how to refashion itself for the future. One was delivered by Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, who was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term despite the defeat in November. It’s worth reading his remarks in full, but the gist was simple. The Republican Party’s beliefs aren’t the problem, Priebus said. Its messaging is the problem. “We can stand by our timeless principles—and articulate them in ways that are modern,” he said, “relevant to our time and relatable to the majority of voters. And that, I believe, is how we’ll achieve a Republican renewal. That’s how we’ll grow. That’s how we’ll win.” He wants to abandon the laser focus on battleground states and compete everywhere, bringing the re-tooled Republican message into communities that rejected it last fall.

(MORE: Joe Klein on Obama’s Inaugural)

This seems a reasonable strategy as far as it goes, but the only specific innovations Priebus cited for cultivating new supporters were “Skype-based training sessions and Google hangouts on campaign strategy, fundraising, door-to-door advocacy, and digital tools.” This is like aspiring to battle Barack Obama’s stable of tech whizzes with an Apple IIGS and a land line. The rest of the speech, which news outlets hailed as a “major overhaul” and a “plan for renewal,” was a nutrient-free series of platitudes. There was no call for substantive change, only tonal tweaks, because Priebus, like nearly all Republican bigwigs, doesn’t believe the GOP needs to change its policies. “The good news is our principles are sound,” he said. “We stand for opportunity and for liberty. Freedom is always a new idea—an ever-fresh, revolutionary idea.”

The second important speech — “dynamite,” raved the conservative Washington Examiner – was delivered by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of a handful of national figures with his sights already set on 2016. Since November, as potential candidates jockey to carve out their niches in a crowded primary, Jindal has tried to position himself as a straight-shooting reformer. “We must stop being the stupid party,” he said, not for the first time. “It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults.”

The admonition grabbed headlines because it sounds edgy, but most of the speech was crib-safe, rife with time-tested Washington-bashing and paeans to free markets and small government. In a perfect world, he muses, “We would replace most of its bureaucracy with a handful of good websites.” (Perhaps Skype and Google.) He urged Republicans to end “the obsession with zeroes” and coalesce around issues that matter in “the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport, and Cheyenne.”

(MORE: House GOP Postpones Debt-Limit Fight–For Now)

Like Priebus, Jindal focuses on tone and tactics. Tone and tactics were indeed problems for Republicans in 2012. Remarks about “self-deportation” and “legitimate rape” and the “47%” who “depend on government” were harmful. But they were symptoms of the real problem, which was a set of philosophical beliefs that produced policies most Americans don’t like.

In 2012, the Republican Party was hurt by its positions on immigration, abortion, gay rights, contraception, climate change and social-spending programs. Fidelity to these positions will only cripple it further over time, as the U.S. becomes more socially liberal and less white. Moneyed conservative outside groups and a GOP base that has lurched to the right lately are prepared to punish dissidents. Which is why it is no surprise that even now, in this period of reflection on the party’s failures, the GOP is letting its policies go largely unexamined. (Immigration policy is a notable exception.)

Instead, Republicans want to modernize their infrastructure, re-write the electoral college rule book in their favor, modulate their tone. “We need to be a happy party,” Newt Gingrich said. The GOP should be “an exciting party that smiles,” Priebus said.

The Republican Party did not lose in November because of its tone, and it did not lose because of tactics, although it got beat on both counts. It lost because a majority of Americans rejected their views on key topics. Until Republicans come to grips with that, renewal will remain a long way off.

MORE: The Trillion Dollar Coin Fantasy: GOP Extremism Can’t Be Wished Away

481 comments
DavidHall
DavidHall

>> party leaders called for a through examination of what went wrong.

THOROUGH, not "through."

PrestonHenderson
PrestonHenderson

I find it funny when GOP supporters like 'reallife' seem to think that the Democratic base is somehow scared or worried about GOP future chances.  You are missing the whole point of the article, bud!  If the GOP and its supporters don't change their belief system than they will be irrelevent for a long time to come.  Shellacking; thats what the GOP thought in the last presidential election.  When will you people ever learn.

reallife
reallife

It's really commendable to hear all these liberals be so worried about the Republican Party. How generous of them! I'm really impressed! 

I can smell the fear!   hahahahahahahah

2014 shellacking!

BOO!


lol



tadthaddeus
tadthaddeus

I just realized the gop is dying but they cant understand why. So dont try to convince them as a matter of fact, I keep telling them they are right. Then watch them turn on each other, because its never thier fault. Try as they might its a dead party talking.

The Republican's have no shame!

tadthaddeus
tadthaddeus

The thing that has made this country great is the right to self determination in a democratic process. What these legislatures are doing is attempting to undermine that process. Undermining the peoples right of self determination should be considered an act of treason.They will then attempt to gerrymander the districts. Our democracy is what has made this country the strongest in the world and allowing ignorant politicians to undermine that process is a bigger threat to this nation than any foreign power!!

The Constitution does not *exist* to protect the powerful. It exists to protect the weak and the minorities *from* the  powerful.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

LiveFyre Alert: On long threads you can view all postings if you go Newest to Oldest.  But vice versa not all of them will open.  Why's that??

tadthaddeus
tadthaddeus

I own a business that caters to the wealthy elite and upper middle class. It pains me to hear some of the crazy things that come out of people’s mouths.

I have come up with an old theory that money has a way of corrupting one’s soul. It’s the most educated of my clients that appear to support our president’s views.

Republicans are needlessly costing us money with all the drama. There is fundamental differences on how to govern and there is deliberate sabotage. This line is getting much clearer every time Republicans bring us to the brink of one avoidable crisis or another.

This is nothing but an attempt to give more power to less people, by definition. Basically a rural voter's vote would count exponentially more than someone who lived in an urban area.

If you can't win, cheat. The GOP tried voter suppression last time to no avail, and now this is their latest underhanded scheme. They are despicable.

Your GOP Working For You: "Cheating To Stay Relevant"!

If you can't win fairly...slant the system your way. The GOP is just wrong for America.

this'n'that
this'n'that

Hallelujah.  You've summed it up.  The GOP is not soul-searching, they are merely hoping to spruce up their packaging, sugarcoat the message but keep the same rotten product intact.  That's not honestly examining beliefs, that's keeping them to yourselves until you're in power.

And if that doesn't work, they'll pull out the brass knuckles of character assassination, out and out lies, trying to block the vote or their new "patriotic" policy of making rural districts with more cows than people get more electoral votes than the cities where people actually dwell.  If you don't like the math, just go back to the old standards of making 1 + 1 = 3.

fitty_three
fitty_three

The best formula is for the GOP to make one congressional district in each state that contains all the Dems and minorities and looks like Swiss Cheese.  Then, the rest are gerrymandered to capture as many GOP voters as possible.

To get this to work, they have to pull out all the stops on the Census side of things, but they'll work it out.

I have faith in their "abilities"...

jilli.brown
jilli.brown

"The Republican National Committee set up a ethnically diverse working group of party elders to solicit input and devise a plan for the future."

C'mon...Exactly how "ethnically diverse" can they get withing the gop?   Parading a few brown faces and a couple of women doesn't represent diversity when the remainder of your party, the remaining 99% is white.  It's just a farce.

paulejb
paulejb

This place seems more like the old Politburo every day. It is the last refuge of Bolsheviks and Trotskyites.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

They also might want to take a look at their spokespeople. Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Ted Nugent...

rabbitwocky
rabbitwocky

I wonder. As the Republicans try to gerrymander their way to relevance, the Democrats are drifting more and more to the center of left, or to the right of center (depending on your perspective). When the radical Right eventually dies off, will we see the sane conservatives join the Democratic Party and sway it even more to the right? Maybe that would allow for the rise of a truly Progressive Party. At least then I see potential for healthy compromise.

Just a thought.

anilkm
anilkm

Reibus reminds me of a frat boy who is completely out of his depth. As with frat boys he will always land up scheming and plotting devious ways to win. Voter fraud, voter suppression, redistricting, other changes will be his modus operandi. There is no way this fool should lead the republican party unless they love extinction.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@PrestonHenderson All summer long, they were chortling about the presumed "panic" among Democrats.  Look how accurate that evaluation turned out to be.

They're just getting an early start on the same old theme.

Tebob2
Tebob2

@reallife Are you high? I'm a Republican who is a realist, they are NOT afraid but they ARE taking our seats and will take more if the GOP doesn't wake up and connect with middle-America out here.... No one is afraid of us, get clean, go to rehab! 

Tebob2
Tebob2

@jilli.brown I'm a conservative who must agree with you. I am so disillusioned with this crowd now, they continue to stick their head in the sand and I think we will lose a significant number of Congressional seats next round... If you look at what they have representing us- it's seriously older, elitist, rotund dudes (and screaming wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann and Palin- please!) who are so out of touch with middle-America it's unreal. I am tired of them honestly. 

Piacevole
Piacevole

@jilli.brown Sometime last summer, a Republican said, "We do, too, have ethnic Republicans!" and she named some.


At the time, I pointed out that >being able< to name them was a problem: it indicated a scarcity..

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

@Hollywooddeed Oh, but not Sarah Palin anymore.  Fox has dropped her, so hopefully her 15 minutes are finally up.  Pardon me for indulging in my 5 minutes of hate, but I sincerely hope we've all heard the last from her.  Don't let the door hitchya!

Piacevole
Piacevole

@anilkm I suspect they cannot grasp the possibility of their own extinction.  Probably the Whigs didn't, either.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Mr Ryan said that if Hillary Rodham Clinton had beaten Mr Obama in the Democratic primaries in 2008 and had gone on to win the presidency, “we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now.”

.

Ryan has to be an idiot for saying that. If Ryan does run and Hillary is his opponent, his own words are going to be Hillary's campaign ads. I think shel'll agree with Ryan that she's the one that should lead the nation.



Piacevole
Piacevole

@sacredh Who lives by the market shall die by the market.  And probably incur other problems by proximity, too.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Of course changing the rules would negate the will of the people. It would also be a very short term solution to a long term problem. With changing demographics, the republican long term solution is in appealing to a broad constituency.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@Tebob2 I appreciate the call to reason from a Republican but I can tell you that this Democrat is scared to death of professional Republicans and the reasons are simple: 1) they have control of the legislative agenda of the country, 2) they have to answer to their lunatic fringe (see above) to get reelected in the majority-idiot districts they've gerrymandered for themselves, and 3) many of them are themselves idiots, accomplished liars, and shameless traitors to their oaths of office and the nation's interests. If everything from the judicial coup d'état of 2000, to Iraq, to torture programs and domestic spying, to corporate personhood, the banking crisis and Great Recession, to the present economic terrorism being inflicted by House Republicans, hasn't made you afraid of what professional Republicans are and are capable of, you're whistling past the graveyard - and not a metaphorical one.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@Tebob2 @jilli.brown If you are truly a conservative, conserve what was good about the Republican party.  It seems to have forgotten what it's supposed to be about.  I remember a Republican party that was worth having.  Now, it's become a sort of leukemia in the body politic.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@sacredh Somehow, I don't think it's going to be Ryan.  Over the summer, when he was ostensibly running as Romney's Veep, he also was advertising and running for his House seat.  This turned out to have been a good evaluation of the ticket's chances, but from the Republican "all or nothing" stance, something less than we might call commitment.  I suppose he could evolve a bit, but somehow I don't see that happening, either.

notsacredh
notsacredh

I'll take a glass of MILF with my fookies.

notsacredh
notsacredh

What have they got left to try? They're in serious trouble and they know it.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Ostensibly each congressional district is roughly the same size population-wise.  But if the game is to win the most number of districts that's even worse than EV.  Minority vote rules! 

[insert one-handed clap here]

Piacevole
Piacevole

@sacredh The long term solution to the energy situation would be a perpetual motion machine, too, but it's easier said than done.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@Piacevole

I wish he would drop his persona and debate or just leave.  People have a right to their beliefs, but he's all about him and not one other thing.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@sacredh They know they're in trouble, but their denial is more than equal to eluding real comprehension of the actual >extent< of the trouble.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Lance might have some leftover EPO.

notsacredh
notsacredh

That's true but you could still have a candidate losing a state wide vote by a large margin and coming out with a majority of the electoral votes. I think it just highlights the republicans desperation. I doubt if they're even considering how much it could trigger a backlash by increasing voter turnout.

fitty_three
fitty_three

Well, reallife, I would say that you're hurting your "cause".  It's a nice riposte, but recognizable by everyone here.

That's why you still look uneducated and poor.I think you done herded the word on FOX so you slapped it into yer vocabliary.

Not to mention that you're still on faux pas status on the ethnic thing.  

Try intelligent conversation.

And yes, I'm talking down to you.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@sacredh "The coasts aren't going to move inland."

Don't be so sure. . .there really is something to the global warming business.  (g)

reallife
reallife

@53_3 must be my liberal education and as far as poor i just want to blend in - after 4 more years of the empty suit at the helm everybody will be poor - or I should say poorer

fitty_three
fitty_three

Um, reallife:

It's spelled "myopia". Also, I wonder if you're not making a bit of a faux pas in the ethnic sense.

You look uneducated and poor.

reallife
reallife

@sacredh  "The red states don't look good.They look uneducated and poor."    

yes and Obama is a "statesman" - hahahahaha  have you taken a walk around New York City, Chicago or Detroit lately? 

talk about miopia  lol


notsacredh
notsacredh

Not for long? Taxes are low now. Only 1% of the people had their taxes raised and then only to levels that we had under Clinton.The red states don't look good. They look uneducated and poor. The majority of people in the US live within 150 miles of the coasts.  The coasts aren't going to move inland.

reallife
reallife

@sacredh"They see all of that red on the map but forget that it's not where most of the people live."

not for long - keep taxing people to death as NY, California, Chicago, Detroit and all those red states are starting to look pretty good - and crowded 

socialism has never worked and will never work, so it's only a matter of time...

notsacredh
notsacredh

Much easier said than done. The constituecy they play to keeps a shrinking base strong enough to be a factor but not large enough to win outside of their regional strongholds. Rural America is huge geographically, but sparsely populated. They're size queens. They see all of that red on the map but forget that it's not where most of the people live.