WASHINGTON: In a sweeping self-critique of the party’s 2012 election efforts, Republican leaders on Monday unveiled a set of proposals aimed at convincing younger voters, ethnic minorities and women that they have a home in the party, even if they do not agree with all of its positions.
“The report minces no words in telling us that we have to be more inclusive,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Monday. “I agree. And as President Reagan said, our 80 percent friend is not our 20 percent enemy.”
The national party’s report, called the Growth and Opportunity Project, is the latest contribution to a conversation among conservatives after disappointing losses in the 2012 presidential and Senate elections. Just days earlier, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, activists debated whether the Republican Party should moderate on issues like immigration or stand firm.
“There’s no one reason we lost” in 2012, Priebus said. “Our message was weak. Our ground game was insufficient. We weren’t inclusive. We’re — we were behind in both data and digital. And our primary and debate process needed improvement.”
The prescription from the national party largely avoids policy, instead focusing on messaging.
“The way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough,” Priebus said. “Focus groups described our party as narrow-minded, out of touch and, quote, stuffy old men.”
Priebus announced that the national committee would invest $10 million to bring on new staff members to help appeal to young, female and minority voters. They will be charged with delivering an “aggressive marketing campaign” among those voters about “what it means to be a Republican.”
Drafted by national committee members and party strategists, including Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, the report incorporated feedback from focus groups, online surveys and interviews with activists and consultants.
“The GOP today is a tale of two parties,” the report begins. One is the successful gubernatorial wing, where 30 Republicans now govern in states that have 315 electoral votes, more than enough to win the White House. Those governors often succeed by reaching out to Democrats.
‘‘It is time for Republicans on the federal level to learn from successful Republicans on the state level,’’ the report said.
The party will also work to overhaul the way it chooses a presidential candidate, including shortening its primary season and limiting the number of debates, Priebus said, adding, “So no more August conventions.”
Though focused primarily on tactics and campaign dynamics, the report did make one policy recommendation.
“We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” it says. “If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
However, Sally Bradshaw, a political consultant from Florida who was on the report committee, seemed to play down the recommendation.
“We don’t say what immigration reform is,” said Bradshaw, speaking to reporters after Priebus’ presentation. “We don’t say it must be a path to citizenship.”
Members of the report committee also highlighted gay rights as a problematic issue.
“Already, there’s a generational difference within our conservative movement about issues that involve the treatment and the rights of gays,” said Glenn McCall, a Republican National Committee member from North Carolina who helped draft the report. “And for many younger voters, this issue is a gateway into whether or not the party is a place they want to be.”
However, McCall later said that Republicans need not change their position on same-sex marriage, even as some high-profile Republicans, like Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who announced last week that he had decided to support same-sex marriage rights after his son came out as gay, have changed theirs.
“We support traditional marriage, the way our creator defines it,” McCall said, echoing the Republican Party’s platform. “But we also support Sen. Portman and the love he has for his son, and he’s still a good Republican.”
Priebus said that developing a more “welcoming” message would require “discipline,” but it was unclear if the party’s base felt any compunction to fall in line.
Tea party views
“Obsessing on ‘messaging’ absolves RNC/GOP of ‘accountability’ for Grand Canyon between their rhetoric and their voting records,” Michelle Malkin, a blogger popular with supporters of the tea party movement, said in a Twitter message.
She mocked the idea of reaching out to younger and minority voters, “ ’Cuz, you know, they haven’t thought of that before.”
However, Priebus did propose some genuinely new approaches to campaign mechanics, including more fully integrating digital operations with the strategy and fundraising divisions of the party. He said he would open a field office in San Francisco to connect with the technology community and hold “hackathons” in tech centers like Austin and New York to develop new campaign tools.
McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.