GOP needs modernizing, Republicans say

WASHINGTON  — To hear some Republicans tell it, the Grand Old Party needs to get with the times.

Some of the early prescriptions offered by officials and operatives to rebuild after devastating elections: retool the party message to appeal to Latinos, women and working-class people; upgrade antiquated get-out-the-vote systems with the latest technology. Teach candidates how to handle the new media landscape.

From longtime GOP luminaries to the party's rising stars, almost everyone asked about the Republicans' Nov. 6 election drubbing seems to agree that a wholesale update is necessary for a party that appears to be running years behind Democrats in adapting to rapidly changing campaigns and an evolving electorate.

Interviews with more than a dozen Republicans at all levels of the party indicated that postelection soul-searching must quickly turn into a period of action.

"We've got to have a very brutally honest review from stem to stern of what we did and what we didn't do, and what worked and what failed," said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who ran the party in the 1990s.

The party "has to modernize in a whole wide range of ways," added former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who ran against White House nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential primary. "We were clearly wrong on a whole range of fronts."

To determine what went wrong, the Republican National Committee is examining every detail of the 2012 elections, with the goal of rebuilding the party for the future — much as the Democratic Party did in the 1980s after suffering a series of stinging losses at all levels of government.

Now, as was the case back then, the stakes are enormous for the party that failed to win the White House and has lost the popular vote for several national elections in a row. They're perhaps even higher for Republicans grappling for ways to court a rapidly changing electorate whose voting groups don't naturally gravitate toward the GOP. The dangers of failing to act could be severe: permanent minority status.

So it's little surprise that after the election, some Republicans were quick to sound stark warnings.

The scale of the losses largely shocked a party whose top-shelf operatives went into Election Day believing Republicans had at least a decent chance of capturing the White House and gaining ground in Congress, where Republicans controlled the House and had a sizable minority in the Senate.

Instead, Romney lost all but one of the nine contested states, North Carolina, to President Barack Obama and was trounced in the electoral vote. Republicans also lost ground to Democrats in both houses of Congress, though Republicans retained their House majority.

How to move forward dominated the discussions at last week's Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas, where some of the party's leading voices castigated Romney's assessment — made in what was supposed to be a private telephone call to donors — that Obama won re-election because of the "gifts" the president had provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters. These governors faulted Romney.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal attributed Romney's loss to a lack of "a specific vision that connected with the American people."

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who describes himself as a "pro-choice moderate Republican," echoed Republicans across the spectrum when he said last week: "We need to be a larger-tent party." Brown lost his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Across the board, Republicans say that arguably the most urgent task facing the party is changing its attitude about immigration as it looks to woo Hispanics. This rapidly growing group voted overwhelmingly for Obama, by margins of 7-to-1 over Romney, who had shifted to the right on the issue during the GOP primary.

It didn't take long after the election for even staunch conservatives to start changing their tune on immigration. Days after the election, even conservative TV host Sean Hannity said he would support an immigration bill.

Said Barbour: "If we would be for good economic policy in terms of immigration, that would go a long way toward solving the political problem."

It's not just Hispanics.

Republicans said they also have work to do with single women and younger voters, many of whom tend to be more liberal on social issues than the current Republican Party. These Republicans said a change in tone is needed, though not a change in principles such as opposition to abortion.

"We need to make sure that we're not perceived as intolerant," said Ron Kaufman, a veteran Republican strategist who advised Romney's campaign. "The bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others."

Republicans also said the party has to work on its relationship with working-class voters.

"Republicans have to start understanding that small business and entrepreneurs are important, but the people who work for them are also important," said Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., who lost his seat to Democrat Ann Kuster. "We've got to be compassionate conservatives."

Party leaders also said the GOP needs to change how it communicates its message. Obama's campaign, they said, was particularly effective at talking directly to voters, and building relationships over long periods of time, whereas the GOP was more focused on top-down communication such as TV ads and direct mail.

"There are whole sections of the American public that we didn't even engage with," Gingrich said.

Others pointed to the pressing need to recruit candidates who know how to stick to a carefully honed message, especially in a Twitter-driven era. Among their case studies: Senate candidates Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri, who both discussed rape and pregnancy during the campaign, to the chagrin of party leaders looking to narrow the Democrats' advantage among women.

"We need candidates who are capable of articulating their policy positions without alienating massive voting blocs," said Kevin McLaughlin, a Republican operative who worked on several Senate races for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Many Republicans say the party doesn't have a choice but to change — and quickly.

Said Kaufmann: "In this business, either you learn and grow or you die."

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Comments

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Atwater called it the Southern Strategy

He meant to accept racist, bible thumping southern Democratics into the Republican Party as allies. What he got was the anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, anti-minority, anti-women religious extremists running the Republican Party. Republicans are not going to win with Atkins, Ryan, and Rand Paul running the Party. They are not going to win promoting the same economic theories that crashed the economy in 2008. They are not going to win proclaiming they are for fiscal responsibility when they are in fact the most irresponsibleParty in US History. They can not win proclaiming that they will ignore the simple facts.
They can win if they begin by cooperating in solving the problems this country faces - immigration, the exportation of jobs not products, and weak education.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

There's only one thing they need....

If their going to put someone into an election, at least find someone who is generally likeable. It only took me three minutes to hate Mitt Romney, and even less time to hate Paul Ryan. Three minute of Romney's elitist mumbo jumbo, was all it took. After that, every time I saw that pasted on half smile he had, I wanted to throw something at my TV. Maybe personality would be a good place to start rebuilding.......

John Goddard's picture

Actions, not words, win trust and votes.

They surely do need to modernize. Stop acting like this is the 1940s. stop having such hatred towards anyone who is not Caucasian. Stop forcing religious views onto its people. Stop lying on camera and speaking the truth in private. Stop cheating the opposing party by redistricting their state zones to favor their party. Stop forcing voter laws changing the demographics, and discouraging voter participation, hoping it will help them win elections. Surely they can change their messaging tactics, but the message remains the same. It is their deep rooted Southern core values that have infected their platform for years, that stink. If they want to be a respected party, they must first give respect to all. Trust must be earned. Actions, not words, win trust. If they truly were for "All the people" they would have evolved by now. They have not, because they are not.

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