Back to the Drawing Board, Again

Republicans must go back to the drawing board, otherwise the work they've done so far will be a wasted exercise.

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The Republican's "Growth & Opportunity Project" isn't comprehensive enough. It's a document filled with marketing and campaign tactics: improving messaging, appealing to minorities, building a data infrastructure, adjusting fundraising, and compressing the primary process. Don't get me wrong, these are all good ideas, but what's the long-term vision?

The tactical recommendations rest on a single-case: the mistakes that Mitt Romney made that lost him the presidency. What about how the GOP governs in Congress? How will representatives change their legislative behavior to reflect the new messages? Most importantly, how is the Republican National Committee going to get state and local party organizations to buy in?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Political parties are decentralized organizations. There's no "top-down" command structure to enforce compliance, and even if there was, it takes a while for change to take root. The GOP only needs to look as far as how reorganizations play out in major corporations. They're messy affairs that often lead to a lot of employee turnover. In decentralized organizations, there are no mechanisms to make change happen; the RNC can offer state and local parties incentives to tow the line, but incentives alone don't work.

The party wants to start recruiting more women and minority candidates, but it's going to difficult for these candidates to get a seat at the table. Most races are not competitive: there are just a few open races with no incumbent running. Incumbents are hard to beat. They get reelected 90 percent of the time. Challengers could make some headway mounting primary fights, like the Tea Party did in 2010, but Republican leaders have been pretty clear: protect incumbents.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

So if most incumbents stay in office, how is the GOP's new messaging going to work? Conservative incumbents don't have records that are friendly to minorities. It's not just about changing the talk - you also have to change the walk. Provide a consistent narrative, otherwise you come across as a flip-flopper. And flip-flopping sinks campaigns. It certainly drowned John Kerry's 2004 and Romney's 2012 bids for the White House.

The GOP must go back to the drawing board and come back with something solid. Otherwise, the work they've done so far will be a wasted exercise -- just a PDF file with a cool cover page filled with pretty circles and a white elephant.

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