Got 99 Problems But the Right Ain’t One

So in a blare of hype (including a Press Club speech by Reince Priebus), the Republican National Committee released a big fat report this morning on the findings of its Growth and Opportunity Project, the official 2012 post-mortem and manifesto for “party reform.”

As expected, what’s not in the report is as significant as what’s in it. Amidst a host of talking points about “outreach,” messaging tone, technology, and the presidential nomination process, there’s a flat statement of the need to reconsider ideology on exactly one issue: immigration. Yeah, the report also takes judicial notice of the “generational” trends on LGBT issues and recommends a more “tolerant” attitude on such matters, but skirts actual positioning on marriage equality.

As always, the GOP has 99 problems but conservatism is not among them.

Other than the non-appearance of most of the ideological totems of the Right, the most interesting features of the report (to the extent they have been reported) involve relationships between the national party and non-party campaign organizations, and the nominating process.

On the former issue, the report seems to straddle the main issues. It recommends better coordination with outside campaign groups “as much as is legally possible,” which is actually not much. And it suggests national Republican steer clear of intervention in primary fights, which could be viewed as a warning to Karl Rove’s new Conservative Victory Fund, or to Rove’s supposed intraparty foe, the Club for Growth. Since each will justify its interventions by reference to the other’s, that probably won’t cut much ice.

As for that quadrennial toy of “reformers” in both parties, the presidential nominating process, the report urges a big cutback in the number of candidate debates, which the national party has zero power to actually regulate, and an earlier and more consolidated calendar. Most interestingly, the report recommends a trend towards regional primaries (with, of course, a big pass for the much-entitled “early states”), though Republicans have been even less inclined than Democrats in the past to interfere with state prerogatives in this area. It also encourages the use of primaries rather than caucuses and conventions for purposes of selecting delegates–probably reflecting the late-year domination of the latter by Ron Paul’s forces in 2012–but again, absent firm rules and sanctions, no one will really care.

The one nominating-process “reform” that the RNC probably could pull off is an earlier national convention, but it would have to be much, much earlier to have a constraining effect on state contests that typically conclude by early June.

What will be interesting now is how seriously this document is taken by Republican elected officials and interest groups and the MSM. Some right-wing folk will choose to pretend the RNC is lead-footing an intervention by the “Establishment” that compromises their power; others may recognize that the refusal of the national party to go a lot further after two consecutive presidential losses is in fact a reflection of conservative power.

As for the MSM, most initial reactions are taking the report a lot more seriously than its recommendations justify. Politico‘s Maggie Haberman did make its evasions pretty clear, and then noted:

Other suggestions are likely to meet with some chuckles, such as one related to doing better with younger voters: “Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry to host events for the RNC and allow donors to participate in entertainment events as a way to attract younger voters.”

It was only a few months ago that the party repeatedly hit Obama for fundraising with celebrities.

Besides, I thought the entertainment industry bore the Mark of the Beast, and was responsible for every social ill from teen pregnancy to gun violence. But maybe the RNC’s idea of a “celebrity” is Donald Trump or Ted Nugent.

All in all, this report is likely to collect a lot of dust, and maybe get a historical footnote if the GOP ever does get serious about dealing with its problems.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.