The Republican National Committee is offering a mea culpa for the GOP's defeat in the presidential election last November. But the self-styled GOP "autopsy" lacks a crucial ingredient: a compelling message on how the party can appeal to disaffected constituencies, such as Latinos, young people and single women.
"There's no one reason we lost," says RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. "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. ... So, there's no one solution. There's a long list of them."
Yet, as many critics point out, the RNC report dwells on public relations and not the bigger problem of updating and revamping its message. RNC officials say it is up to elected leaders such as members of Congress and governors to come up with new policies if they believe such change is appropriate.
But what might be most needed for the GOP is to create a think tank and policy-generation center outside the regular party apparatus similar to the Democratic Leadership Council, which was created in 1985 to push the Democratic party to the center.
Although it was criticized by liberals for being Republican-lite, the DLC did help to moderate the Democratic Party and increase its appeal to Middle America. Such an emphasis on the middle class is a big part of President Obama's rhetoric to this day.
The DLC also served as an important perch for Bill Clinton while he was Arkansas governor. He assumed the chairmanship of the DLC in 1990, billing himself as "a different kind of Democrat," and he went on to win the presidency in 1992 and 1996.
The Republicans today are seen as too conservative, just as the Democrats were seen as too liberal a generation ago. And the RNC's post-election report finds that the GOP has a horrible image with everyday Americans. "Asked to describe Republicans," the report notes, "they said that the party is 'scary,' 'narrow minded,' and 'out of touch' and that we were a party of 'stuffy old men.'"
Some GOP conservatives disagree that the party needs to change its views. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP's unsuccessful vice presidential nominee in 2008, told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week: "Let's be clear. We're not here to rebrand a party. We're here to rebuild a country."
Other conservatives say the RNC is showing itself to be a tool of the GOP establishment because its report calls for fewer debates in 2016, shortening the nominating season and holding more primaries rather than caucuses to select nominating delegates. These recommendations would likely benefit well-financed and well-known candidates rather than insurgents.
Democrats labeled the Priebus approach as a marketing or packaging strategy, not an effort to change the substance of the GOP's positions on issues such as opposing abortion, supporting tax breaks for the rich and for big corporations, and endorsing cuts in popular social programs such as Medicare. Without such changes in its policies, the Republican party will remain in trouble, Democratic strategists say.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.