RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And the Republican Party has issued a blistering assessment of why it lost the 2012 election. The Republican National Committee Growth and Opportunity Project told the party that if it wants to win national elections in the future, it needs to change the way it communicates with voters and runs its campaigns.
NPR's Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The GOP's election autopsy was brutal. Focus groups describe the party as narrow minded and out of touch, filled with stuffy old men who favor the rich. The RNC report recommended lots changes but, according to party, chair Reince Priebus, none was more urgent than connecting with minority communities.
REINCE PRIEBUS: By the year 2050, we'll be a majority-minority country. And in both 2008 and 2012, President Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority groups.
LIASSON: To become competitive again, the RNC plans to invest $10 million in a bottom-up grassroots effort this year, modeled after the Obama campaign, with hundreds of paid workers focused on reaching women, minority and younger voters.
PRIEBUS: We've never put this many paid boots on the ground this early in an off-year. We've also never been this dedicated to working at the community level to win minority votes household to household.
LIASSON: The ultimate aim is to change the image of the GOP, described this way by potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush, at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend.
JEB BUSH: Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates - even though they share our core beliefs - because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.
LIASSON: Bush's former chief of staff Sally Bradshaw was one of the five members of the Growth and Opportunity Project who wrote the RNC report.
SALLY BRADSHAW: We just suffered a big loss. And I think us to acknowledge that and be truthful. And people want a new path for the party.
LIASSON: But not everyone is on board. Some conservatives worry that one proposal, to speed up the primary process and cut down on the number of debates, could disadvantage a grassroots candidate who can't raise a lot of money upfront. Others are angry about the report's recommendations on issues that are divisive for the party.
The report says, for example, gay rights are a gateway issue for young voters who wonder if they'll be comfortable inside the GOP. And the report recommends that Republicans embrace comprehensive immigration reform.
Erick Erickson, who writes the RedState.com blog, voices the objections of the conservative grassroots.
ERICK ERICKSON: What I'm hearing already from the base is that, on both the mechanical part and the policy aspect, that it sounds like it's a top-down, Washington dictating to the states what should happen. I think if the party forces it through, they're going to see a huge backlash from the base.
LIASSON: Erickson thinks the party should leave policy debates to its voters. But Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review thinks the report didn't go far enough.
RAMESH PONNURU: There's a limit to what the National Republican Committee can do to change the party's message and the party's policies. But I think that Republicans are kidding themselves if they think that they can avoid doing that.
LIASSON: Ponnuru says if reps are going to reach minority voters they'll need new policies on issues including taxes and health care.
PONNURU: Where they explain what they're going to do to improve access to health insurance since they're still committed to repealing the Obama law. I hope that they have a tax message that is just as concerned about the burden of payroll tax on middle-class Americans as it is with capital gains tax on higher earners.
LIASSON: Many of the mechanical changes the RNC report recommends could be in place within months. Some still have to be voted on. But the policy changes will take a few years and a lot more internal debate to resolve.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.
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