In wake of election, GOP weighs next step
WASHINGTON -- The Republican Party is in turmoil, confused about its future and disliked by huge numbers of voters.
Not only did Republicans lose a presidential election they long had regarded as winnable, the party lost seats in Congress as well as support among women, blacks and Hispanics. And it wound up perceived as a home for some of America's most doctrinaire and incendiary -- some would say intolerant -- politicians.
That's the landscape that confronts the Grand Old Party as the Republican National Committee gathers this week in Charlotte, N.C., for the first time since the November election.
The formal part of the Wednesday-Friday session is expected to go smoothly, as Chairman Reince Priebus is likely to win re-election despite a challenge from Maine National Committeeman Mark Willis.
The nuts-and-bolts types who make up the committee like Priebus, who's credited with improving fundraising and grass-roots organizing.
"He's made sure we have the means to be competitive," said New Hampshire Republican Chairman Wayne MacDonald. "It's just hard when you're up against an incumbent president with a billion dollars in the bank."
The real drama will be the introspection, as the people who run the party try to figure out how to remove the stains of 2012. It won't be easy.
They're going to discuss findings of the Growth and Opportunity Project, headed by a group of party VIPs Priebus tapped after the election to study long-term strategy in eight areas, including the party's ground game, message, fundraising and "lessons learned from Democratic tactics."
Republican troubles, though, go beyond November's losses. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll last week found that 49 percent had a negative view of the party.
"We've allowed ourselves to be tagged as elitist and out of touch," said former party Chairman Michael Steele. "You've got to be willing to talk to people who don't look like you."
The party is also sharply split into distinct camps.
"The divide is not only ideological but cultural, the Romney elitists versus the tea party Republicans," said Craig Shirley, an author and conservative activist.
Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, but the conservatives who dominate the party never warmed to his patrician ways or forgot his centrist history. He then stirred an uproar with his post-election assertion that President Barack Obama had provided "gifts" to black, Hispanic and young voters.
Party stalwarts are convinced that Republicans can bounce back. They still maintain the biggest House of Representatives majority since World War II, and last November's win in North Carolina gave the party control of 30 governor's offices.
They're convinced that issues will trend their way, particularly as the national debate focuses on fiscal issues and guns.
Shirley likened the mood to that of the late 1970s, when a host of issues energized the conservative base, such as opposition to the Panama Canal treaty.