Committee to Save the GOP: Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Become Inclusive to Gays or Keep Losing

The Republican Party will release a report today that provides the blueprint for how it must adapt from its 2012 electoral defeat

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Jonathan Ernst / REUTERS

Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., March 16, 2013

The Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project, formed last year to analyze the party’s 2012 electoral defeat and plot a path forward, is recommending softening some of the party’s conservative positions — or at least how it communicates them.

“Our party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones,” the report concludes, raising alarm for the longevity of the Grand Old Party. “We sound increasingly out of touch.”

The report, to be released at a press conference Monday morning at the National Press Club and distributed to reporters late Sunday for review, calls for the quick passage of comprehensive immigration-reform legislation and a softer tone on gay issues. It was prepared by five veteran party operatives, including former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, Florida operative Sally Bradshaw and Mississippi National Committeeman Henry Barbour. More than anything, it is a rejection of the politics of “arithmetic,” as RNC chairman Reince Priebus will say when he announces the report’s recommendations in a thinly veiled shot at Mitt Romney’s 47% comments. “The RNC cannot and will not … write off any demographic, community or region of this country.”

“We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” the report states. “If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only … If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e., self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence.”

And while it does not call for a party reversal to back allowing gay marriages, the document warns that hard-line stances are hurting Republicans with younger voters, who cast ballots overwhelmingly for Obama in the 2012 election.

“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,” the report states. “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 report also pushed for a host of procedural and technical changes to how the party operates, from stepping up outreach to independent allied groups to refocusing its efforts on technology and grassroots outreach as opposed to television ads.

“There’s no one reason we lost,” Priebus will say. “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.”

The report calls for increasing party control over the primary process, including shortening the calendar, limiting the number of debates and moving the Republican Convention to early summer. The result, the drafters hope, would be a less damaging primary process that selects a nominee earlier in the year, allowing them to access general-election funding sooner.

While Priebus and the RNC have begun implementing many of the technological improvements and have pledged to work quickly to step up grassroots and minority-outreach programs, it remains to be seen what will become, if anything, of the more dramatic proposals. Activists who gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend were widely critical of any growth in the party’s influence in elections and many were openly hostile to any policy shifts.