Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sharon Day says many changes need to happen for Republicans to start winning more elections, including a GOP embrace of comprehensive immigration reform and putting an end to “aggressively negative” rhetoric on the issue of marriage.
Earlier in March, the RNC issued a very detailed report into why the 2012 elections went poorly for the party and how efforts can be improved in future campaigns. Suggestions ranged from fewer debates in the GOP primaries and greatly beefing up hi-tech outreach to making greater inroads with various demographics, especially blacks, Hispanics and young voters.
The RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” reports young voters saw gay marriage as a defining issue in how they cast their ballots. Day says the party stands behind it’s platform position of a marriage being between a man and a woman but the tone of the conversation needs to improve.
“What this report showed and what we find important is that tone does matter. Words do matter. You have to make people feel inviting. You have to make people want to feel invited to be part of the process and part of the solution,” said Day. “When we talk about these issues, we don’t have to talk about it in a negative aspect with individuals, which is a complete turn-off for many people, myself included.”
As high-profile Supreme Court arguments on same-sex marriage played out in Washington this week, Democrats were very active in urging the court to change the definition of marriage. Republicans were largely absent from the debate. Day says the GOP clearly stands behind its traditional marriage plank in the party platform.
“I think we clearly define that a marriage is between a man and a woman. Our belief is from that point, but it doesn’t mean there also isn’t open dialogue to discuss it and to talk about it,” said Day. “Again, our platform, that’s the way we define a marriage is between a man and a woman, but it doesn’t mean that we have to be aggressively negative about that.”
“Democrats are going to do what the Democrats are going to do. They’re great at demagoguing. They’re great at getting out there. They’re great at dividing a nation rather than building unity and that’s the way they do politics,” she said.
The other issue the RNC report specifically addresses is immigration, with the GOP leaders urging passage of comprehensive immigration reform. Day says the issue is a major reason for the plunge in Republican support among Hispanics over the last couple of election cycles and trumps the tendency of Hispanics to agree with the party on other issues.
“With a lot of Hispanics and a lot of minority groups, immigration is not the key issue, but it becomes a key issue when it becomes a political football that’s kicked from one side to the next without talking about it in honest terms,” said Day.
“There’s a big mixture about what should be immigration reform and I think we’ve led the way. We have some of our individuals, like Ted Cruz, like Marco Rubio, that are leading the way in trying to come up with a solution. That was a very important part of George W. Bush when he was president. He couldn’t get it past the Democrats in any way, shape or form,” said Day.
Day believes the key for Republicans is not to shift their positions on key issues but to engage with voters more effectively.
“It’s not changing our principles but changing the message and the way we talk to people. Half the battle sometimes is just reaching out to someone in their community, talking about the things we stand for and the convictions we stand for, the principles our party stands on,” said Day.
“If you’re a man, a woman, you’re Hispanic, you’re black Republican, you’re an Asian, doesn’t matter. What we want is the same thing. We want a good education for our children. We want a job, to be able to put food on the table without two or three jobs. We want strong national security. Those are the things that are important to every American. We did not do a good job as the Republican National Committee or our party or our candidates in talking about the issues that resonate to all Americans. We weren’t in the communities. We weren’t talking about it. We didn’t make them feel invited. We did not make them feel like we wanted them in our party and that’s our responsibility,” said Day.
One major victory for the RNC over the past two years was emerging from serious debt piled up under the leadership of former Chairman Michael Steele. Day says it took a lot of work to convince donors to help the party get out of debt before it could even focus on messaging.
On the technical side, the GOP freely admits it was badly beaten by the Obama campaign in using new technology to inform, motivate and turn out voters. As a result, she says the RNC is setting up an office in Silicon Valley to produce the most effective data machine possible and compete much better with Democrats in campaigns to come.
The party is also looking to scale back the number of Republican primary debates. There were 21 debates among Republicans presidential candidates in 2008 and 20 in 2012. The RNC is looking to cut that in half.
“It would be great to have not so many. I think I attended 19 of the 20. It was way too many. It was like watching your family fight at the dinner table. We saw that didn’t work, the process of more debates being better, it just in the end did not prove to be correct,” said Day, who says rule changes are in the works to limit the number of debates and could cost candidates who break the rules.
“We do have some mechanisms that we can put in place that the RNC, we think, under the rules of the body, to cut down on the number of debates tied to delegates. I shouldn’t even say all the rules or what they’re looking at, but there are a couple of opportunities that we think that we can go,” said Day.