Roger Simon: Republicans reach for the stars, but fall flat on their faces
A new GOP study designed to theatrically rebrand the party and boldly redirect its future turns out to be 97-page blend of the obvious, the unlikely and the impossible.
The study, which contains no fewer than 219 recommendations, was supposed to pull a party that has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections out of its death spiral.
In previewing it on "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" on Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said of the last election: "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."
Wasn't something else weak, insufficient, behind and needing improvement? Oh, yeah, Mitt Romney. Priebus didn't mention his name, perhaps because he has already forgotten it.
The bold and new rebranding of the Republican Party is, in fact, a mélange of old Democratic successes (organize hard with paid staff and new technology across the entire country), old Democratic failures (limit the number of primary debates) and thinking that is so pie-in-the-sky that the GOP might as well stand for Grand Old Pastry.
Take minorities. The Republicans are now going to study them like they were some kind of new microbe. Priebus is pledging to spend $10 million on the effort.
I know $10 million sounds like a lot, but in political terms it is a pittance. The two presidential campaigns spent more than $2 billion in the last election, and one Republican billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, gave Romney $33 million in the closing weeks, bringing the total he and his wife gave to the GOP to $95 million. In other words, $10 million is what Republican fat cats find in their couch cushions.
No matter. The Republicans need to seek out and woo minorities because so few minorities are already members of the party. Republicans have to study minorities from afar, like astronomers studying distant galaxies.
The Republicans are going to establish "Senior Level Advisory Councils" for Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. They will reach out to women and start doing "voter engagement at a granular level starting now," Priebus said at a news conference Monday.
Priebus did not explain what "granular level" means, but next time you open your sugar bowl, watch out.
Minority outreach for Republicans is easier said than done, however, and the new report envisions a lot of saying without promising much doing. The GOP doesn't really expect to gain many new black voters in 2014 or 2016, but it is drooling over Hispanic voters.
After the 2000 election, Matthew Dowd, then a senior strategist for George W. Bush, produced a now-historic memo stating that if Republicans continued to underperform among Hispanics, the party would be in serious trouble nationally as Hispanic voting strength grew.
And Hispanics were fertile soil for Republicans. As Dowd told me: "Hispanics are more like European immigrants of the early 1900s or late 1800s. They are like the Irish: They start out Democratic, but as they become part of the economic mainstream, they become much more valuable to Republicans."
On the surface, the new GOP report looks good for Hispanics. "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." (Which is what Dowd told them a dozen years ago.)
But that is as far as the report goes. It does not address what most Hispanics really care about: immigration reform that guarantees a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million in America illegally.
Some Republicans don't want to reward lawbreaking, and some say: "Hey, why create millions of new voters who are going to give Democrats 70 percent of their votes?"
This is where outreach becomes tough. When Priebus was asked why gay voters would vote Republican, he replied: "Sen. Portman made some inroads last week."
And, indeed, Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, recently endorsed gay marriage after finding out (two years ago) that his son is gay. And if Portman ever has a black child, maybe Portman will champion civil rights.
But don't worry. The GOP is leaving no minority group unturned. The report calls for a "Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry to host events . and allow donors to participate in entertainment events as a way to attract younger voters."
So maybe Sheldon Adelson and Taylor Swift could do a happenin' duet.
Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist.