March 18th, 2013
08:35 AM ET
10 years ago

Republicans want to end perception as 'stuffy old men'

Washington (CNN) – The beleaguered Republican Party put into writing Monday what many of its top strategists and leaders have been saying since last year's election losses: The GOP is too old, too white, and too insular to win national contests.

In a months-in-the-making report - which tops out at 100 pages and includes hundreds of recommended fixes - the Republican National Committee acknowledges its messaging problems, identifies structural setbacks to the primary calendar and spells out how to target specific demographic groups that voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2012.

"The report notes the way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who also happened to be celebrating his birthday, said at the report's release in Washington. "Focus groups described our party as 'narrow minded,' 'out of touch,' and 'Stuffy old men.' I’m only 41, by the way. Today."

"It all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It's not just what we say; it's how we say it," Priebus continued. "The promise of opportunity will be our message, and a spirit of optimism will infuse everything that we do."

The report was initiated by the RNC soon after last November's vote, which saw Republicans lose the presidency as well as seats in the U.S. House. Mitt Romney, the party's White House hopeful, lost big among Latinos, African-Americans and Asians, a fact that helped spur collective soul searching among the party's leaders.

"Public perception of the Party is at record lows," the report states. "Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us."

Romney won only 27% of Latino voters - a lower percentage than the last two GOP presidential candidates. Many pointed to Romney's hardline stance on immigration, including his endorsement of a policy of "self-deportation," as a reason.

In Monday's report, that policy was specifically shunned as a turnoff for voters who could potentially vote Republican.

"If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence," it states. In one of its few policy recommendations, the report counsels Republicans to "embrace and champion" comprehensive immigration reform.

And in order to attract young voters, the party recommends a "change in tone," particularly on social issues.

"In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters," it states, adding later that it's imperative that young people not regard the GOP as "totally intolerant of alternative points of view."

"Our policies are sound, but I think that in many ways the way that we communicate can be a real problem," Priebus said at the report's release.

He continued, "Decent people can disagree on issues. I don't agree with my wife on 100% of the issues, but it doesn't mean we don't have a good marriage. I think that we have to be a welcoming party. I think that we have to have a party that says, 'If you want to support our party and you want to walk through that door, I don't need to agree with you on every single issue.'"

"Republican Party is, indeed, a big tent," said Ari Fleischer, a CNN contributor who was one of the report's authors, on Monday. "We need to make sure that's a big tent, and not just rhetoric."

"Take the issue of gay marriage, for example, and gay rights. There is a genuine generational split in the Republican Party on that issue. Many, many young conservatives are for gay rights, are for gay marriage. And we openly talk about that and acknowledge that and we welcome that. That's part of what a big tent should be about," Fleischer said on CNN's "Starting Point."

The party's primary process has also generated problems for Republicans, the report finds, including the months-long primary process that saw candidates ripping each other in front of too many debates.

The number of debates should be cut in half, the report recommends, and the Republican National Convention should be moved earlier in the summer, so that the party's presidential candidate can start using RNC money earlier - the candidate is prevented from using those funds until they are officially nominated at the convention.

Also necessary, according to the report: a more robust digital effort, including the creation of a chief technology and digital officer for the RNC, to compete with Democrats online.

"Digital can simply no longer be an afterthought in our campaigns," the report states. "It has to be embedded in every function and backed up with appropriate staffing and funding."

CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Kevin Liptak and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

Filed under: Republicans • RNC
soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. texasnotea

    Sounds just like an addict who says "I'll stop drinking tomorrow" but tomorrow never gets here. The only way the republican party can regain some credibility is to change the way it's already elected officials operate. Stop the obstruction of progress, learn to compromise and stop calling the President of The United States of America names. Until they show America they are part of the solution and not the problem, most Americans will turn away from them.

    March 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  2. mogran

    It appears there's plenty of liberal dem advice for running the GOP...sure wish they'd use that advice on their own's big spender clueless run by nincompoops

    March 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  3. Anonymous

    I find it hilarious that some of the most liberal northeastern states are almost entirely white. And the deep red south has the highest concentrations of black populations. It's really easy to not develop any kind of racial prejudice if you sit in your little white community and rarely even see a black or hispanic. There are only 4 states which are over 90% white; three of them are in those hard democratic New England states. Why don't they have more minorities?

    March 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  4. christopher bird

    It isn't about fixing the messaging. Its about sorting out the positioning and then messaging that clearly. Lipstick on a pig doesn't change the pig.

    I suspect, but don't know that one boorish commentary from some on the right could have an impact too. Why would we want to be perceived as a party of ill mannered loudmouths? That's what the country sees of us when we spew hatred. I would hope for better- especially as there are many Christians in the party. Tolerance, embracing all in spite of differences would go a long way. Take an example from Pope Francis. Refrain from name calling, show some humility. Attempt to understand the feelings and hopes of others.
    Above all, lies and distortions,especially the really obvious ones demean us, and destroy leadership's credibility.

    March 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  5. Alina77

    GOP's logo "We all are like Palin"... Good luck to you guys ever win "anything " in this country.

    March 18, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  6. Ronnie Jackson

    As a democrat I don't think you should change the way you do things people need to decide If they want that kind of conservatism.

    March 18, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  7. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    How else can the GOP portray itself given the majority in Congress and other elected postions are old white men. There are younger people who are part of the GOP but aren't as prominet.

    March 18, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama


    It really comes down to one thing. Any party, right or left, that refuses to compromise, will scare away the middle. People in the political main stream expect and desire compromise. If you scare away the people in the biggest chunk of the bell curve, all you have left are the fringes
    Exactly Ricardo, wells aid!
    I would be making the same comments about Democraps if they'd proved themselves to be as intransigent, irrational, and as willfully ignorant as these so-called Tea infested Republicans have blatantly and unashamedly been for the past 5 years.
    We do not have a viable two-Party system as the Republicans have gone off the deep end and have essentially left the building. Quite shameful really because they have abdicated their sworn duty at a time when the country needed them most to work for its' survival.

    March 18, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  9. Joe B

    Love the title. What would be the title for the dems? I'm guessing "Dumb Enough To Vote For Us". I'm not a dem or repub, but the people at CNN are only fueling their own destruction.

    March 18, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  10. Joe

    Talk about changing public perception is just that, talk. The political agenda will be the same so what difference does it make. The political party will not cease to be that party simply by a change in rhetoric. Behind closed doors it will be business as usual – deregulation for the wealthy "job creators" to fill their pockets at the ex

    March 18, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  11. Glenn

    It's amazing how some people will always be in denial about some things. This artical is true and until the Republicans realize this, they will never move forward.

    March 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  12. John

    God's Own Party (GOP) imploded when the Talibangelicals hijacked it.

    March 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  13. iceload9

    Going to be difficult for the party of fear to find the fine line. "We want you guys on our team. It's all the people just like you we should alert the public to fear."

    March 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  14. pauliri

    I love this. they dont want white, old and fat white people with republican ideas. They want darker, slim and young people with republican ideas. if the GOP thinks that US citizens of hispanic origin in the US are going to vote for Marco Rubio because he speaks spanish, oh boy they are in for a surprise.

    We can spot them even if they dress up.

    March 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  15. w_roos

    Also forgot to mention: Too male and too angry.

    March 18, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  16. Lee

    I'm a fiiscal conservative (differeentiated from those who want to gut social programs) and one who appreciates traditional values (and intolerance and narrow-mindedness are not among them) and believes in sonserving our natural resources (which doesn't mean burying ones head in the sand regarding things like climate change). I would be open to voting for a conservative Republican with a clear, feasible message like Reagan had. But I'll be darned if I'll vote for a party of bigots, gay-bashers, the greedy and arrogant, and ucompromising hardliners who care only about the rich – and that is what the GOP has truly become. And worst of all, their proud of it! In the last field of contenders, Jon Huntsman was the only cadiddte who spoke with reason and made any sense, and we see how far he got. With people like Cruz, Bachmann, Palin, Boehner, Santorum et al as their poster children I may never vote for a Republican again. Ever.

    March 18, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  17. Joe

    Rand Paul, Cruz?

    ALL the other younger senators who came and showed their support for Rand Paul's filibuster?

    Socially conservative, fisically responsible, take power from the feds and give it to the states. That is what the GOP is about.

    You want gay marriage, fairness, and all the other shouted out values... vote for it in your state. Dont have it in your state? Move to one that fits your preferences.

    March 18, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  18. Paul

    You can't be the party of "no" and expect people to take you seriously. You can't say you are a big tent and then vote the opposite. Actions always speak louder than words. Stay out of the social arena and focus on compromise and solving problems.

    March 18, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  19. Ray E. (Georgia)

    And Dang,
    It is those "Stuffy" Old Rich men that build business and hire people. They have the money !! You want some? You too will have to get off your can and work until you too, will be a Stuffy Old Rich man! You want everything right now ! If so you will have to be the first to invent it. So far no one has found it, but you can try.

    March 18, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  20. NameWJK

    66 years old and I am ashamed of my party, the Republican Party. Maybe in 20 yeats when all of us old white guys die...the party will rise from the walking dead.

    March 18, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Ancient Texan

    Why are Dems so biased against elderly white people?
    And this is what you took away from this article? Really? Why are we not surprised.
    Please don't start crying and balking when the name-calling starts.

    March 18, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  22. Michael

    My hope is just that in the midterms enough non-Republicans and reasonable Republicans turn out so that more of the worst elements of the Republican party don't win seats and continue to convince themselves that they represent the majority. These old codgers and religious nuts are convinced that they are the majority and they've had it good for so long that they aren't going to go down without a fight. As long as moderates and liberals sit back and don't show up for the midterms, the Republican party of today will still exist and still be able to win sometimes. Rubio himself, who is supposed to somehow represent the new face of the party was just commenting the other day that there's nothing wrong with the Republican "message" because that message is "America." Just what the hell does that even mean? The reality is that that's really the only message Republicans during my lifetime have ever put forth. They just spew campaign slogans and empty rhetoric. In the past, there were enough misty-eyed WWII veterans and Baptist church ladies out there who hadn't had sex since the Nixon administration to be moved by it. Fortunately, those days are over. But if the middle and the left get lazy and cocky and he have another midterm election where only 15% of the electorate turns out, those same relics of the 1950s will turn out, win and convince themselves once again that they represent "the real America."

    March 18, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  23. SuperD

    This country is sick. You have a party that promotes small govt, individual liberty and freedom, low taxes, strong defense and a govt living within it's means and there's something wrong with that?

    What, because of bunch of low information, minority voters don't sign on to it? These are the people who need to wake up and wake up soon because all the Progressives have for them is shared misery and they will be so far sold down the road to dependence that there's no hope for them.

    March 18, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  24. Tim

    Hey "Reince" Baby? It's not about the "branding," it's about the SUBSTANCE of your party and everything it views as a priority these days. Cosemetize your party all you want, but until you change the fundamentals, you'll continue to lose. (P.S. What kind of a name is "Reince Priebus?" It sounds like a 1978 Volkswagon bus.)

    March 18, 2013 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  25. Dave

    " 'Republicans want to end perception as 'stuffy old men' " THEN GET RID OF THE STUFFY OLD MEN! What a concept!

    As stated earlier it is the positions they take not the marketed / spun message they pretend to send. Lipstick on a pig does not change the pig.

    To claim that the Dems have the perfect / flawless message and plan is totally wrong. To say that the GOP has a LOT of work to do is a perfect / flawless message the GOP needs to hear each and every day.

    March 18, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
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