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GOP issues a scathing self-analysis; 'our message was weak'

By Rachel Weiner
Washington Post

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gave a blistering assessment of the GOP’s problems on Monday, based on the results of a months-long review, and he called on the party to reinvent itself and officially endorse immigration reform.

Referring to the November election, Priebus said at a morning breakfast: “There’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; and our primary and debate process needed improvement.

“So, there’s no one solution,” he said. “There’s a long list of them.”

Among the report’s 219 prescriptions: a $10 million marketing campaign, aimed in particular at women, minorities and gays; a shorter primary season and earlier national convention; and creation of an open data platform and analytics institute to provide research for Republican candidates.

“When Republicans lost in November it was a wakeup call,” Priebus announced at a National Press Club breakfast. “We know that we have problems. We’ve identified them, and we’re implementing the solutions to fix them.”

While the document is intended to focus on strategy, the group made one major foray into policy. If Republicans want to reach Hispanic voters, the authors say, the party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.”

Asked if some Republicans would balk at that recommendation, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer — one of the report’s five co-chairmen — said the last election had brought many conservatives to the same position.

“It was such a clear two-by-four to the head in the 2012 election,” he told the Post, referencing Mitt Romney’s 27 percent share of the Hispanic vote. “[N]ot saying it would have been such a glaring omission. Republicans could never win again if that’s the status.”

The recommendations also include a $10 million expenditure to begin a bottom-up outreach effort to minority communities, including hiring national political directors for Hispanic, Asian-Pacific and African American voters. ”We’ve done a real lousy job sometimes of bragging about the success that we’ve had” with minorities, in particular Hispanic candidates, Priebus said.

“The way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough,” he added. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘stuffy old men.’ The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.”

The report is the product of a three month listening project, as Priebus and other Republican leaders met with stakeholders around the country.

The report tells Republicans they must “change our tone” on “certain social issues” to win over younger voters and reach out to gay Americans. But the authors do not offer a specific policy prescription on gay marriage as they did on immigration.

Asked about reaching out to gay voters, Priebus said that Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio ”made some pretty big inroads last week” when he came out in support of gay marriage. But Priebus did not say whether he supported Portman’s stance, saying only that he supported the senator’s freedom to take that stance.

“There’s more of a split on issues involving gays” than on immigration, Fleischer told the Post. “Ten years ago, there used to be no split. Now the younger generation of Republicans is leading that split, and that’s a healthy part of being a big tent,” he said.

The open data platform is meant to help Republicans close a perceived digital communication gap with the Democratic Party. “Think of it like Apple and the App Store,” Priebus said. Priebus also called for putting a chief digital and technology officer in place, opening an RNC satellite office in San Francisco and holding hack-a-thons to bolster relationships with developers.

“Over and over our co-chairs heard of the need for an environment of intellectual curiosity,” Priebus said.

The report also calls for reworking the presidential primary system so that the party picks its nominee earlier in the year and then officially nominating him or her at a convention in June or July rather than late August or September. Priebus said the report had to be “bold,” “raw,” and “real” — and had to be public — to have the desired impact.

“This is an unprecedented thing, for a national party to put its cards on the table face up,” he said. “Maybe a few pieces of china needed to be broken.”

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