By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — A year after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus commissioned a report that suggested sweeping changes in how the party operates, he touted progress on many fronts — but distanced himself from a key recommendation to increase its appeal to the Latino community: support for comprehensive immigration reform.
In a breakfast with reporters Tuesday tied to the anniversary of the release of the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” Priebus detailed structural changes he said have “fundamentally reshaped the way we do business at the RNC.”
They include a major investment to eliminate a technology gap Democrats have enjoyed, largely because of the sophisticated data operation of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, as well as the deployment of a “permanent, coast-to-coast, year-round ground game” intended to spread the Republican message in communities Priebus said the party had long ignored.
Appealing to growing demographic groups, such as the Latino community, was a major component of the 100-page document, with its authors noting how “precarious” the party’s position has become. Its first recommendation was for Republicans to engage with ethnic minority voters and “show our sincerity.” Second was to “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.”
“If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only,” the authors stated.
Asked about that recommendation at the breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Priebus said he “generally” supports the idea but that there were disagreements in both parties about exactly what comprehensive reform should look like. He also noted that leading GOP figures have talked about the need for immigration reform, as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky did in a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“I think we do need to tackle this issue. And I think there’s general agreement in the party that that needs to happen. But I would say that there’s not agreement as to what exactly that package looks like,” he said.
He downplayed the role of immigration reform as a gateway issue for Latino voters, saying it was more important for the party to simply engage with the community to share its message on other key issues.
“Showing up is a big part of the battle,” he said. “Actually 37 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as conservatives. But if we don’t go into Hispanic communities on a year-round basis and explain what it is that we believe as a party, then those dots can never be connected.”
Asked by a reporter after the breakfast to discuss when immigration reform ought to be taken up, Priebus said it was a question better posed to congressional leadership. And when challenged on the issue, he went further in seeming to distance himself from the recommendation.
“This is not the RNC’s report,” he said. “It was a report that the RNC asked these people to put together. … And the report speaks to an array of issues that partly affect us and partly affect other people. And you’re asking me about a particular issue in the report that speaks to the legislature.”
Indeed, the RNC’s primary role is to support Republican candidates tactically across the country. Priebus in particular has focused on ending what he has called a “tale of two parties” — one GOP that thrives in midterm years but struggles in national presidential years.
Photo: The Rachel Maddow Show via Flickr