CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Republicans are surprisingly unified around the GOP’s need to undergo major overhauls to stay competitive in future elections, despite their internal policy divisions and an ongoing split between their party’s establishment and grass roots.
A gathering of Republican National Committee members in the city where Democrats celebrated President Barack Obama’s renomination exposed a sense of purpose, at least, from national GOP insiders, battleground state operatives and even former Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s supporters, who only joined the party last year and are known more for agitating than strategizing.
James Smack, an RNC committeeman from Nevada who supported Paul over Mitt Romney during the 2012 Republican presidential primary, said the election results shined a spotlight on the GOP’s voter turnout deficiencies and made it clear that change is needed if the party wants win the White House in 2016. For the same reasons, Smack was similarly supportive of the RNC’s intent to establish relationships with minority voters and to improve candidate recruitment and political messaging.
“Yeah, it was closer for Romney vs. Obama in 2012 in Nevada versus what it was in 2008. But close only counts in horseshoes and nuclear weapons,” Smack said in an interview. “The desired results would have been a Romney victory; we didn’t get that. We need to come back to, yes, we’re doing the activity, but how do we measure the effectiveness? And if the effectiveness isn’t there, then we probably should be changing the activity in order to get the result.”
RNC members were in Charlotte to re-elect Reince Priebus as party chairman and conduct other housekeeping business. But with Priebus failing to draw a challenger and all but two of the 168 voting RNC members supporting his bid for a second two-year term, the real focus of the GOP’s winter meeting was to continue exploring what went wrong last November — and more importantly, to learn from it and to move forward.
That effort has taken shape in the form of the five-member “Growth and Opportunity” task force, which was assembled by Priebus.
This group of senior GOP operatives has been charged with autopsying last year’s presidential and downballot campaigns and recommending changes. The report, due in March, is supposed to include specific proposals for addressing several issues that have divided Republicans in the past. That report itself could pose challenges, however, given that the GOP grass roots in recent years have been resistant to direction of any kind from the party establishment.
Among the issues that could sew discord are expected task force recommendations on upgrading candidate recruitment downticket, appealing to female voters, ethnic minorities and other demographics where the GOP has been deficient, and better managing the presidential primary process, including exerting more control over televised debates and who can participate.
As one former GOP official cautioned, people involved in politics are often quite resistant to change.
“It’s one thing to produce the report, it’s another thing to implement it,” this Republican insider said.
The RNC has moved to minimize divisions over the task force and its findings, and it’s trying to engender broad support for its recommendations by moving slowly and talking to a broad range of party officials and grass-roots activists. Task force members include Henry Barbour, nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; Sally Bradshaw, a Florida GOP consultant close to former Gov. Jeb Bush; and Ari Fleischer, press secretary under President George W. Bush.
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