WASHINGTON — Over strong objections from some conservative leaders, the Republican National Committee formally endorsed immigration reform on Monday and outlined plans for a $10 million outreach to minority groups — gay voters among them — as part of a strategy to make the GOP more “welcoming and inclusive” for voters who overwhelmingly supported Democrats in 2012.
In a report released Monday, the RNC says that the way the party communicates its principles isn’t resonating widely enough and that focus groups perceive the party as “narrow minded,” “out of touch” and “stuffy old men.”
“The perception that we’re the party of the rich unfortunately continues to grow,” Reince Priebus, the RNC chair, said in a Monday morning speech.
To broaden its appeal, the party must reach out to minority voters and others, according to one recommendation in the report: “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink,” it said.
Acknowledging the tough road ahead for some immigration reform in a divided GOP, Priebus after the speech refused to say whether “comprehensive immigration reform” should include a pathway to citizenship and distanced himself from some of the report’s recommendations.
“Remember these are recommendations made to the RNC. This is not my report,” he said.
Party leaders have crafted dozens of recommendations following a months-long self-examination prompted by last year’s painful election losses. The report also calls on Republicans to take a harder line with corporate America, loosen political fundraising laws in Washington and in state capitals, and cut in half the number of candidate debates in a shortened 2016 presidential primary calendar.
“When Republicans lost in November, it was a wakeup call,” Priebus said.
The Republican National Committee’s shift on minority outreach may be the most visible change in the coming months.
Priebus plans to dispatch hundreds of paid workers into Hispanic, black and Asian communities across the nation by the end of the summer, a $10 million effort meant to rival President Barack Obama’s national political machine.
The RNC will also push for a tone of “tolerance and respect” in the immigration debate, create “senior level advisory councils” focused on minority groups, and establish “swearing in citizenship teams” to connect with new voters immediately after swearing-in ceremonies.
“We need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case,” the report says. “We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.”
The recommendations will not be well received in all corners of the Republican Party.
Some Republicans, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio among them, are working toward bipartisan immigration reform that is likely to include a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants — sometimes called “amnesty.” Conservative commentator Ann Coulter ripped the idea in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend.
“If amnesty goes through, America becomes California and no Republican will ever win another national election,” Coulter said.
A veteran Republican strategist and one of the report’s authors, Sally Bradshaw, acknowledged Monday that there would be opposition within the party, but said “other Republicans are starting to step up.”
“There is not an easy path for this,” she said. “These are difficult recommendations.”
The RNC’s recommendations follow an extensive look at what went wrong in 2012.
Priebus tapped a handful of respected party leaders to examine how the GOP could better talk with voters, raise money from donors and learn from Democrats’ tactics. The report also suggests that party officials could lean more on independent groups such as super political action committees to fund television advertising campaigns, allowing the Republican National Committee to focus on strategy and contacting voters.
Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under former president George W. Bush, and Bradshaw, a top adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, were among those leading the inquiry. Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour, a GOP strategist and nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, was also part of the group. RNC members Zori Fonalledas of Puerto Rico and Glenn McCall of South Carolina rounded out the five-person committee that listened to Republicans’ ideas and frustrations.
Those leaders heard from 50,000 rank-and-file members about how to respond to the nation’s shifting demographics.
Priebus planned a full-scale rollout of their recommendations Monday, although the proposals — particularly those affecting the presidential primary calendar — are far from a done deal. They would have to win the approval of the 168-member RNC and then each state’s election chief would have to abide by the party’s proposed calendar.
The report recommends reducing the number of presidential primary debates to approximately 10 to 12, with the first scheduled no earlier than Sept. 1, 2015. It calls for the primary calendar to begin with the traditional “carve out” states — such as Iowa and New Hampshire — before moving to a major reorganization, such as a “regional primary system” finished by mid-May.
While there was much focus on the nuts and bolts of politics, the report also offers extensive recommendations for how Republicans communicate with voters.
The report also calls for the GOP to take a harder line with corporations.
“We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare,” it says. “We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.”