A conservative group is unveiling a new report blasting parts of the Republican National Committee’s 2012 autopsy and arguing that the GOP should stand strong on social issues while repackaging its economic message.
“We believe the conventional explanation emerging from the Republican National Committee’s ‘autopsy’ report gets the core issues exactly wrong,” reads the report from American Principles in Action, a conservative advocacy group. “Accepting this emerging conventional wisdom will, in our view, likely consign the GOP to a permanent minority status.”
The report was authored by social issues activist and author Maggie Gallagher; activist Frank Cannon, who in a separate interview was more measured about the RNC’s effort; and Rich Danker, an economic projects director with the group. All are tied to the affiliated American Principles Project.Set to be released Thursday, their report takes issue with what they call “conventional wisdom” that Republican losses in 2012 stemmed from candidates who focused too much on “extremist” social issues, taking away from the party’s “winning economic message.”
“First, social issues (especially the life issues) do not hurt GOP candidates… they help them win elections,” reads a copy of the assessment reviewed by POLITICO. “Second, and most importantly, the GOP’s economic message as currently structured is not a winning message.”
The RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project,” dubbed an “autopsy,” offered a wide-ranging set of recommendations for moving forward from last cycle’s losses, from engaging diverse communities to improving campaign mechanics. It also urged a more accepting approach to diverse views on social issues, emphasizing a change in tone on some matters, rather than demanding a shift on policy positions.
But the new report argues that when Republicans don’t engage head-on with those hot-button topics, they allow Democrats to define them.
“The Democrats know they will not pay a price for their increasingly aggressive advocacy of their extremist social issues stances, because the GOP will not counterpunch on these issues,” the report says. “Thus they can please their base at no cost.”
“We encourage everyone to read our report where we laid out a path to stand by our conservative principles and grow our party so we can win elections,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.”We welcome all ideas that help us accomplish these goals and have taken steps to increase our engagement across the board.”
She added that the RNC has “hired staff to engage with conservative groups, faith-based groups, minority communities and have developed a new grassroots, bottom-up organizing program to make sure we are getting input from everyone on how we move forward and grow as a party.”
Cannon noted that the group agreed with some of the RNC’s recommendations, but differed when it came to emphasis of social issues.
The conservative assessment, titled “Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012,” dismisses what former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) called a “truce” on social issues, arguing that even if Republicans stopped fighting over them, Democrats would continue to highlight GOP positions on their terms.
The Virginia governor’s race emerges as one example of that dynamic, the report says.
GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who has a deeply conservative record on social issues, has often declined to wade too deeply into the subject on the stump. The report singles out an instance when Cuccinelli ducked a question about abortion restrictions, suggesting “that his campaign has accepted the conventional wisdom that the best use to make of social issues is to signal to voters that you don’t take your own positions seriously enough to govern with them, so it’s safe for the mushy middle to vote for you.”
In contrast, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) — typically considered a moderate — is held up as a prime example of a conservative leader sticking to his guns on social issues despite his perch in “a very deep blue state.”
“Social issues alone, of course, are not enough,” the report continues. “Politically, here is the single most important lesson the GOP must learn and urgently address from 2012: our economic message failed to connect with economically hurting voters. Our first and most urgent task is to address the failure of our 2012 economic argument in order to build a winning coalition.”
The report offers a slew of economic-related recommendations, from addressing cost-of-living issues to reforming monetary policies. It stresses that voters are concerned about perceived rising prices and falling standard of living, tied to worries about rising college tuition and stagnant wages.
Tangible recommendations included creating a “$5,000 national online community college degree,” linking Obamacare to declining standards of living and promoting an end to “quantitative easing,” a policy in which the Federal Reserve aims to pump more money into the economy through a bond-buying process.
“To build a winning political coalition, the GOP needs a new conservative economic message that focuses on voters’ declining standard of living through the deadly combination of wage losses, job insecurity, and rising prices for middle-class goods,” the report suggested.
Middle class voters are also more interested in hearing about wages than promoting “job creators,” a favored GOP term that many associate, negatively, with bosses, Gallagher said.
“I think this is the hardest thing for conservative elites to digest: The last election cycle, the economic argument, simply with the current structure, does not work,” she said in an interview. “Republicans try to do things like talk about job creators, voters hear ‘my boss.’”
Arguments about cutting taxes also aren’t as salient as they once were, the report adds.
“The empathy gap is both a policy gap — a failure to address voters’ real economic concerns — and a language gap,” the assessment says. “Small business is more popular than big business with voters, but most voters are workers who have bosses. Republicans must communicate that they are connected with voters’ concerns and not primarily their bosses’ needs.”