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Friday, December 9, 2016

The Republican National Committee released its long-awaited post-2012 “autopsy” Monday, in the form of a 99-page report titled the “Growth and Opportunity Project.” Although the report pushes for some drastic changes in the way that the Republican Party conducts itself during elections, it ultimately fails to confront the primary problem: Its policies just aren’t popular with voters.

With the exception of a qualified push for immigration reform, the Growth and Opportunity Project centers around the idea that the Republican Party’s platform is sound, while the messaging is at fault. That comes as no surprise — it was RNC chairman Reince Priebus, after all, who recently declared “I don’t think our platform is the issue” — but this plan is startlingly divorced from the Republicans’ present reality. On nearly every issue facing Congress — from raising the minimum wage, to cutting federal programs, to strengthening gun safety laws, to fighting against climate change — most voters side with Democrats over Republicans.

Further complicating the RNC’s mission is the fact that the GOP has shown absolutely no signs of being ready to change the conduct that led to the party’s overwhelming losses in November.

For example, the Priebus plan notes that “if we are going to grow as a party, our policies and actions must take into account that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty,” adding “The perception that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years. It is a major deficiency that must be addressed.”

Improving outreach to the poor seems like a great idea in theory. In practice, House Republicans are preparing to vote this week on Paul Ryan’s extremist “vision document,” which explicitly promises to slash funding for programs that help the needy in order to finance a massive tax break for the wealthy.

The report’s suggestion that Republicans “learn once again how to appeal to more people, including those who share some but not all of our conservative principles” seems like a no-brainer. But in reality, those people are called RINOs, and are almost automatically disqualified from national races. Priebus’ report can’t change that reality. Even while the autopsy suggests that “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” most of the GOP’s brightest stars spent the weekend at the insular Conservative Political Action Conference — to which popular governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia were not invited, for the unforgivable crime of compromising with some of their states’ many Democrats.

In theory, the report’s suggestion that “if we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity,” makes perfect sense. In practice, the GOP seems to be going out of its way to antagonize minority voters; even as the autopsy suggests showing sincerity, the party continues to push for voter-suppression laws that nakedly attempt to keep minorities away from the polls. While the autopsy suggests that the GOP “must be inclusive and welcoming” to Hispanic-Americans, Senate Republicans are simultaneously gearing up for a racially-charged filibuster of Thomas Perez, the only Hispanic nominee for President Obama’s cabinet.

The report pushes the party to “establish a presence in African-American communities and at black organizations such as the NAACP,” but it seems to forget that Mitt Romney tried that in July. He ended up getting booed repeatedly for promising to repeal health care reform, and patronizingly claiming to be the best candidate for the black community.

“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 said of his report Monday morning. He is forgetting a more important factor: what they do. The Republicans’ problem isn’t that voters aren’t getting the message about the party’s policies; it’s that too many voters read the GOP loud and clear.

AP Photo/CBS News, Chris Usher

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