Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus released the Republican Party's official "autopsy" of the 2012 election on Monday morning. Conservatives are already upset at what's in it -- particularly its hints at policy changes. For example, the Priebus report states, somewhat awkwardly, "We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform."
Conservatives should keep an open mind and identify precisely what's wrong -- and what's right -- about this report. Immigration reform, which has always enjoyed conservative support among libertarians and big business Republicans, will be a bitter pill for others to swallow. But it will likely be a moot point before the next election anyway, regardless of where the RNC stands. More importantly, the RNC is indeed not a policy committee. GOP candidates' policy positions on such issues as same-sex marriage will be decided by Republican primary voters and by delegates to national and state party conventions, not by some pamphlet produced by Washington insiders.
This is why the policy issues discussed in the pamphlet are far less important than the process issues.
First, there's the good: For decades, Republicans have not only failed to court black and Hispanic voters, but have in many cases avoided courting them so as not to remind them of upcoming elections, lest they turn out and vote in large numbers for Democrats. This is no way for a party to survive, let alone grow. You can't win someone's vote if you don't even try. If the RNC is serious about the report's recommendations to court racial and ethnic minorities, it will not settle for some kind of token apology tour. It will instead put serious money behind minority voter contact efforts and set realistic metrics of success or failure.
For example, Republicans will not start winning majorities of the black vote any time soon. But the difference between winning and losing Ohio in 2012 was the difference between getting 16 percent of the black vote there (as George W. Bush did in in 2004) and getting only 3 percent of it (as Mitt Romney did). It is also worth noting that Romney won 47 percent of the Asian vote in Nevada -- the only state where Republicans made concerted multilingual voter contact efforts for that group. In contrast, Obama won 79 percent of the Asian vote in neighboring California.
Then there's the ugly: The RNC report suggests shortening the presidential primary and reducing the number of debates. But the problem in 2012 was not the number of debates (20), but the quality of the candidates. By limiting the number of debates and compressing the primary schedule, the RNC would create a massive structural advantage for big-money candidates who do not need free media to become competitive. Such a move would shortchange grassroots conservative candidates, who rely on upset wins in early primaries. Mitt Romney would have had a much easier time under the proposed system.
In light of their recent loss, Republicans are right to reconsider their modus operandi. The RNC report correctly identifies as a major problem the widely held perception that "the GOP does not care about people." But it would be a shame to see the party's insiders use the poor performance of Romney -- who famously confirmed this perception when he wrote off 47 percent of the nation's voters -- as an excuse to stack the deck in favor of the next similar candidate.