GOP autopsy: Too old, too white

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March 18th, 2013
08:35 AM ET

37 minutes ago

Republicans want to end perception as ‘stuffy old men’

Washington (CNN) – The beleaguered Republican Party put into writing Monday what many of its top strategists and leaders have been saying since last year’s election losses: The GOP is too old, too white, and too insular to win national contests.

In a months-in-the-making report – which tops out at 100 pages and includes hundreds of recommended fixes – the Republican National Committee acknowledges its messaging problems, identifies structural setbacks to the primary calendar and spells out how to target specific demographic groups that voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2012.

“The report notes the way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who also happened to be celebrating his birthday, said at the report’s release in Washington. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘Stuffy old men.’ I’m only 41, by the way. Today.”

“It all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It’s not just what we say; it’s how we say it,” Priebus continued. “The promise of opportunity will be our message, and a spirit of optimism will infuse everything that we do.”

The report was initiated by the RNC soon after last November’s vote, which saw Republicans lose the presidency as well as seats in the U.S. House. Mitt Romney, the party’s White House hopeful, lost among every demographic bloc except white men, a fact that helped spur collective soul searching among the party’s leaders.

“Public perception of the Party is at record lows,” the report states. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”

Romney won only 27% of Latino voters – a lower percentage than the last two GOP presidential candidates. Many pointed to Romney’s hardline stance on immigration, including his endorsement of a policy of “self-deportation,” as a reason.

In Monday’s report, that policy was specifically shunned as a turnoff for voters who could potentially vote Republican.

“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,” it states. In one of its few policy recommendations, the report counsels Republicans to “embrace and champion” comprehensive immigration reform.

And in order to attract young voters, the party recommends a “change in tone,” particularly on social issues.

“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,” it states, adding later that it’s imperative that young people not regard the GOP as “totally intolerant of alternative points of view.”

“Our policies are sound, but I think that in many ways the way that we communicate can be a real problem,” Priebus said at the report’s release.

He continued, “Decent people can disagree on issues. I don’t agree with my wife on 100% of the issues, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have a good marriage. I think that we have to be a welcoming party. I think that we have to have a party that says, ‘If you want to support our party and you want to walk through that door, I don’t need to agree with you on every single issue.’”

“Republican Party is, indeed, a big tent,” said Ari Fleischer, a CNN contributor who was one of the report’s authors, on Monday. “We need to make sure that’s a big tent, and not just rhetoric.”

“Take the issue of gay marriage, for example, and gay rights. There is a genuine generational split in the Republican Party on that issue. Many, many young conservatives are for gay rights, are for gay marriage. And we openly talk about that and acknowledge that and we welcome that. That’s part of what a big tent should be about,” Fleischer said on CNN’s “Starting Point.”

The party’s primary process has also generated problems for Republicans, the report finds, including the months-long primary process that saw candidates ripping each other in front of too many debates.

The number of debates should be cut in half, the report recommends, and the Republican National Convention should be moved earlier in the summer, so that the party’s presidential candidate can start using RNC money earlier – the candidate is prevented from using those funds until they are officially nominated at the convention.

Also necessary, according to the report: a more robust digital effort, including the creation of a chief technology and digital officer for the RNC, to compete with Democrats online.

“Digital can simply no longer be an afterthought in our campaigns,” the report states. “It has to be embedded in every function and backed up with appropriate staffing and funding.”

CNN’s Paul Steinhauser, Kevin Liptak and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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