Republican report blunt in call for new direction

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaks about an RNC report that endorses immigration reform and outlines plans for outreach to minority groups – gay voters among them – as part of a strategy to make the GOP more “welcoming and inclusive.” Enlarge photo

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaks about an RNC report that endorses immigration reform and outlines plans for outreach to minority groups – gay voters among them – as part of a strategy to make the GOP more “welcoming and inclusive.”

WASHINGTON – Republican leaders Monday offered a harsh and sweeping self-critique of a party they said was in an “ideological cul-de-sac” and needed better outreach and a new brand of conservatism to appeal to younger voters, ethnic minorities and women.

But the call for change in preparation for the 2016 presidential election faces a Republican establishment in Washington that has so far shown little interest in altering its political trajectory in the party’s continuing battles with President Barack Obama and Democrats.

In a sign of that reluctance to change, the 100-page assessment immediately drew fire from conservative activists and pundits who derided it as a retreat from fundamental principles.

Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, accused Republicans of being “totally bamboozled” and lacking in confidence.

Conducted by the Republican National Committee after the 2012 election defeat, the report is searing in its bluntness. Still, one of the main solutions it offered was new logistics rather than new policies: It called for fewer presidential debates and a shortened primary season.

The party’s stated goal with a shortened political calendar is to settle on a presidential nominee sooner in the process, which would allow the candidate earlier access to general election funds. But tea party members said Monday that the abbreviated calendar was an attempt by the Republican National Committee to tamp down debate.

The document also urges all members of the party to “smartly change course” in what appears to be in part a marketing campaign to persuade voters that Republicans are not narrow-minded and out of touch.

“We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people,” the report says. “But devastatingly, we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

The report acknowledges a new willingness to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, saying that the alternative is a party whose appeal “continues to shrink to its core constituencies only.” But on other issues – taxes, gun control, same-sex marriage and health care – it is largely mute.

Leaders in the party, including House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, praised the report.

“I’m particularly glad the report makes a strong commitment to digital, data and voter outreach, and I’ve told the chairman he will have my full support as he moves forward with retooling these strategies and tactics,” Boehner said in an email.