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GOP report calls for sweeping reforms to compete in 2016

 

The Republican National Committee released an audacious set of recommendations on Monday aimed at revitalizing the party following the drubbing suffered by GOP candidates last November, calling for sweeping changes to the party's infrastructure, outreach and nominating process to contend for the White House in 2016.

The RNC's 100-page report, the "Growth and Opportunity Project," is the election autopsy ordered by Chairman Reince Priebus last fall.

While speaking Monday at a National Press Club breakfast, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reflects on what may have gone wrong for the GOP during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Culled from more than 52,000 contacts with voters, party consultants and elected officials, it calls for drastic changes to almost every major element of the modern Republican Party.

"When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call. And in response I initiated the most public and most comprehensive post-election review in the history of any national party," Priebus said Monday morning at the National Press Club. "As it makes clear, 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; our primary and debate process needed improvement."

In essence, the report argues for a more data-driven Republican Party in which the RNC assumes increased authority for party-building efforts.

The report calls for increased outreach to women, young voters and minorities — especially Hispanics. The document acknowledges the GOP’s policy on immigration has become a “litmus test” for what will be a key constituency necessary for the party’s success in the next four years and beyond.

"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," the report says, nodding at other points to the bipartisan reform efforts currently before Congress. "If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

The report also notes a growing generational divide on the issue of gay rights, calling the issue a "gateway" for young voters deciding whether to align with the GOP.

"We can't grow the party by division and subtraction," Priebus said during a question-and-answer session at the press club. "We can only build it by addition and multiplication."

But the report is hardly focused on social issues alone. Its top recurring theme arguably involves building a robust Republican data infrastructure, and applying a commitment to testing and analysis of almost every operation of the RNC.

Priebus is advised to hire a chief technology officer and digital officer by the end of April, and give them wide latitude to inform aspects of the party from fundraising to media strategy and messaging and beyond.

"Those teams will work together to integrate their respective areas throughout the RNC and provide a data-driven focus for the rest of the organization," Priebus said. "And they will be the new center of gravity within the organization."

The GOP's digital revamp — as with most of the other elements of the report — was prompted by the Obama campaign's far more sophisticated operation in 2012.

Handout / Getty Images

Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, appears on ''Face the Nation'' on March 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Many of the reforms proposed by the Growth and Opportunity Project, however, will encounter stiff resistance in corners of the Republican Party and broader conservative movement — because of a deep distrust of the official GOP among the grassroots. 

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin encapsulated the sentiment during her speech on Saturday before the Conservative Political Action Conference. 

"Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home, and toss the political scripts," she said, "because if we truly know what we believe, we don't need professionals to tell us."

And some of the report's declarations are sure to ruffle feathers on the Right.

The report says bluntly at one point that "third-party groups that promote purity are hurting our electoral prospects," an indirect reference to groups like the Club for Growth, which has promoted challenges to Republicans regarded as more electable who are accused of transgressing against conservative principle.

A spokesman for the Club for Growth had no comment about the report, and Ari Fleischer, one of the leaders of the GOP project, argued that success would involve overcoming resistance from fellow Republicans.

"Successful parties learn and grow, and you do the best learning after you lose," he said at a press conference Monday morning.

The report also calls super PACs a "wild card" that threaten to weaken an eventual nominee due to the onslaught of negative advertising during primaries. (2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney suffered from this type of friendly fire during his slog to the nomination.)

The report calls for broader changes to the Republican primary system, too, especially as it relates to picking a presidential candidate. It calls for prohibiting primary debates before Sept. 1, 2015, and limiting the total number of debates to 10 or 12 -- and possibly docking delegates from candidates who ignore the rules.

The report also calls for holding the Republican National Convention in late June or July, necessitating that the primary process concludes between late April and mid-May. 

To accomplish that, the Growth and Opportunity Project recommends for a major — and likely contentious — overhaul to the primary calendar in which groups of states in a similar region would vote on the same date. The so-called "regional primary system" would follow traditional nominating contests in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, for which there would be an exception. 

Furthermore, the report recommends that Republicans ditch caucuses and conventions — venues in which conservative activists traditionally dominate — in favor of primaries for picking a nominee.

Among the report's assorted other recommendations:

  • Establish a new "Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council" tasked with reaching out to Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and other minority communities;
  • Commit an initial $10 million to improving outreach to minority communities;
  • Set up an "RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry" to attract young voters, and encourage Republican leaders to "participate in and actively prepare for interviews" on the Daily Show, the Colbert Report and other media aimed toward younger Americans;
  • Place a greater emphasis on early voting in political strategy, messaging and budgeting;
  • Invest in full-time field staff in states beginning at a much earlier point in election cycles;
  • Convene a quarterly summit of Republican pollsters, ensure an accurate model of likely voters and turnout for polling, and recommend that GOP polls include a 25 percent subsample of respondents who can be reached by cell phone only;
  • Explore making more efficient television advertising purchases, including possibly shifting resources away from paid media and toward organizational efforts and alternative methods of voter contact;
  • Work with outside conservative groups (to the extent that it's legal) to better define different organizations' responsibilities;
  • Encourage a well-funded conservative group (akin to Democrats' group, American Bridge) dedicated to full-time tracking and research of Democratic candidates;
  • Expand the RNC's low-dollar fundraising program, and seek more efficient finance staffing;
  • "Convince Congress to remove the biennial aggregate contribution limits," or, absent that, seek to increase the contribution limits for federal campaigns;
  • Abolish the public financing system for presidential campaigns, including the matching funds program;
  • Replace taxpayer funding of national party conventions with a system in which party committees could raise additional funds for the conventions;
  • Allow party committees to raise additional funds to support the maintenance of their buildings and facilities.

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