The Republican Party honchos who huddled in [Charlotte, N.C.] for their first big gathering since the election devoted lots of time talking about the need to welcome Latinos and women, close the technology gap with Democrats and stop the self-destructive talk about rape.
But the party's main problem, dozens of Republican National Committee members argued in interviews over three days this week, is who delivers its message and how, not the message itself. Overwhelmingly they insisted that substantive policy changes aren't the answer to last year's losses.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus declared, "It's not the platform of the party that's the issue. In many cases, it's how we communicate about it. It is a couple dumb things that people have said."
An RNC member from West Virginia added, "We don't need a new pair of shoes; we just need to shine our shoes."
I see. So a few months after a national election in which President Obama won re-election fairly easily, Senate Democrats unexpectedly expanded their majority, and House Democrats received well over 1 million more votes than House Republicans, GOP officials took a long look in the mirror and decided ... they're awesome just the way they are.
Indeed, Priebus seems to think his party would have been just fine were it not for Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
The so-called "Growth and Opportunity Project," tasked by the Republican Party to study in detail why the GOP is struggling to compete at the national level, includes party insiders who "appear to be unanimously blaming its losses on ill-considered messaging and outreach."
There's a lot of this going around, and it's evidence of a party that stuck its head in the sand -- and just kept pushing.
Think about what we've seen from prominent Republicans in the wake of their electoral failures. Jim DeMint, the former senator and now head of the Heritage Foundation, believes his party simply needs better communication skills -- and nothing else. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) thinks the GOP would be better off if candidates stopped saying "stupid" and "offensive" things.
Literally just two days after Election Day, Charles Krauthammer's offered this take: "The problem ... for Republicans is not policy but delicacy."
Republicans are looking at the landscape and see a rhetorical problem. Americans would love the party's regressive economic vision, thirst for more and longer wars, and desire to win a repressive culture war if only GOP officials and candidates could figure out a way to be more persuasive in their sales pitch.
This might make Republican feels better, but it's clearly misguided. Republicans have found themselves on the wrong side of the American mainstream, not because of inadequate talking points, but because most of the country likes Medicare, doesn't hate gay people, thinks the rich can afford to pay a little more in taxes, wants fewer wars, supports taking steps to prevent gun violence, and believes the government should stay out of our bedrooms and doctors' offices, among other things.
I don't imagine GOP leaders want my advice, but the writing is on the wall for all who to choose to look -- as Republicans have become radicalized, they've found it harder to compete at the national level, and they've put a greater distance between the party agenda and the opinions of the American mainstream.
What the party has, in other words, is a policy problem that can't be fixed with sloganeering, media training, and "delicate" talking points.