The GOP goes under the knife

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WASHINGTON -- In what unfortunately has been labeled an "autopsy" of the Republican defeat last November, surgeons of the party establishment and its most conservative offshoot had their scalpels out during over the last week, carving up the corpse.

The most prominent political physicians of the right made the first incisions at the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), headlined by prospective 2016 presidential hopefuls like Rand Paul and Marion Rubio. Perhaps for comic relief, even the political cadaver himself, Mitt Romney, put in a rather fawning appearance before many who blamed him for his own loss.

Two days later came Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus, with a 97-page dissection of the 2012 campaign and of the party itself. It examined what went wrong and what steps had to be taken to bring the GOP back to life before the next presidential election. Priebus acknowledged the obvious: that the Obama re-election operation had beaten the pants off his own team in utilizing the new media outreach technology.

He voiced the no-brainer that the Democrats crushed Romney (with help from the man himself with his "47 percent of Americans" kiss-off) by courting and capturing more than 70 percent Hispanic, Asian and African American voters, with particular emphasis on the Latino community.

The party report, however, spoke only in generalities about how to appeal to the Hispanic population, growing like wildflowers in the country. The Republican National Committee, it said, "needs to carefully craft a tone that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the Hispanic community. Message development is critical to Hispanic voters."

But what should that mesasage be? The report took no specific position on the critical argument over immigration right now -- whether there should be a path to citizenship of undocumented immigrants in the country now, fiercely opposed by substantial elements in today's GOP.

Pleading that "we are not a policy committee," the report said only "among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion immigration reform. If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

All the report did say was that the party "is one of tolerance and respect, and we need to ensure that the tone of our message is always reflective of these core principles. In the modern media environment, a poorly phrased argument or out-of-context statement can spiral out of control and reflect poorly on the party as a whole." (Mr. Romney: Please note).

The report further advocated hiring "Hispanic communications directors and political directors for key states and communities across the country" and even proposed fielding newly naturalized Hispanics on the short hop by establishing "swearing-in citizen teams to introduce new citizens after naturalization ceremonies to the Republican Party." (Get 'em while they're hot).

At the same time, the report promised to pump more party money into courting Hispanics in an effort to catch up to the new Obama volunteer organization, Organizing for Action, which is aimed at continuing the president's agenda with the grass-roots powerhouse that gave him his second term.

"The RNC must invest financial resources in Hispanic media," the report specified. "In a $1 billion campaign, much less than 1 percent of the total budget was spent on Hispanic or other demographic-group oriented media. At one point during the 2012 campaign, OFA was outspending us 8 to 1 in these media markets."

But little is said in the party blueprint about what specific message might win over these targeted groups. It's because no consensus position on immigration changes exists today in the Republican Party, and a considerable body of opinion favors no yielding an easier path of citizenship than is now in immigration law.

So it will take more than improved and better financing of the mechanics of outreach to broaden the GOP's base. According to Priebus also, focus groups see it as "narrow-minded, out of touch" and "the party of the rich." Mitt Romney can be blamed in part for that too, but only partly.

(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.)

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

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