The Republican party self-assessment is in full swing.
The juxtaposition of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) over the weekend and the release of a 100-page self-audit commissioned by the Republican National Committee on Monday offered a glimpse of the philosophical divide that bedevils a party trying to chart a new path.
Bertha Calloway once said that we cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. The problem for the GOP is that some of the loudest members of the party don’t feel the sails need to be trimmed.
That was evident by some of the speakers at the CPAC meeting and in the response by some elements of the party to the report unveiled this week.
The audit, which some labeled an “autopsy,” said the party must change perceptions that it is “narrow-minded,” “out of touch” and the party of rich white old men. The report also said Republicans must rethink their positions on immigration and same-sex marriage and reach out to minorities if they expect to broaden their base.
Some of the same critiques were made by speakers at CPAC. But there was plenty of enthusiastic applause at the conference for other speakers who said that was bunk and that the party didn’t need to change. Rather, what the party really needs is to return to a more hard-core conservative approach.
Doubling down on hard-core conservatism was notably absent in Monday’s audit. Which is probably why some Republicans scoffed at the recommendations in the report.
If you need a sense of the disarray in the party, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, the man who commissioned the report, immediately distanced himself from the findings and declined to embrace many of its key points. You know the divide is deep when that happens.
But some facts are hard to ignore. Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and four of those contests weren’t close.
Moreover, as many political commentators inconveniently point out, Republicans are on the wrong side of every 21st century demographic and cultural trend. They have become the “anti-everything” party Jeb Bush summarized at CPAC, “anti-immigration, anti-woman and anti-gay.”
What is worse, the party has, for too many voters, become associated with extremism. That is not a winning formula in a presidential election in a country where voters are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
Any rational self-assessment should acknowledge that President Obama was a weak candidate and the GOP couldn’t replace him. What does that say about the Republican brand?
It’s time to adjust the sails.
Republicans need a better message and better messengers. The GOP core values are still persuasive and resonate with the majority of Americans. They just need a more positive and convincing way to present them to voters.