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RNC meeting eyes outreach to minority voters, internal reforms
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. | Desperate to reverse a quarter-century death spiral with minority voters and restore the grass-roots decision-making that many here feel Mitt Romney undermined in 2012, Republican National Committee members will take on both issues at their spring meeting here this week.
RNC officials will take yet another shot at analyzing why Hispanics, Asians and blacks went overwhelmingly for President Obama in November and have become almost totally unresponsive to GOP "outreach" tactics.
These tactics have been based on the belief that many Hispanic, Asian-American and culturally conservative black voters share the GOP's core principles of self-reliance, limited government, opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and opposition to the decriminalization of marijuana and other recreational drugs.
A few GOP voices have begun to question these assumptions, arguing that many Asian immigrants come from cultures with paternalistic, top-down traditions of governance and that Hispanics have no history of conservatism or of conservative political figures anywhere south of the border.
These emerging voices, like those of Carlo Maffat and Niger Innis, founders of Grass Roots Strategies, say the GOP must first find ways to inform Hispanics, for example, about the advantages to them of the party's message of limited government.
The struggle over policy, strategy and message — with harsh accusations flying back and forth since February — will pit establishment Republicans against grass-roots conservatives on the RNC, which has gradually grown more conservative over the last 30 years.
An estimated 130 of its 168 members – elected by GOP central committees in 50 states and five territories – now are philosophical conservatives. As such, they oppose the top-down establishment rule that GOP attorney Ben Ginsberg and other Romney emissaries wrote into the party's rules at the 2012 presidential nominating convention.
The conservative RNC majority is also steaming over the recent 2012 election party "autopsy" that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus commissioned, an analysis that floated the idea that the party consider dropping its opposition to same-sex marriage and narrow other ideological differences with Democrats. Mr. Priebus' disavowal of many of those findings and his pledge of continued support of traditional values so far have succeeded somewhat in turning down the heat from conservatives.
On effectively engaging minorities — Asian-Americans have replaced Hispanics as the fastest growing group in the U.S. — some RNC members are expected to propose that fellow committee members who are actually immigrants from China or some other Asian nations should head up an Asian engagement section of the RNC. Where possible, Asian-Americans should be field representatives in their own minority communities.
Kansas RNC member Helen Van Etten, an immigrant from Taiwan, cited the party's habit of creating an Asian campaign committee every four years, then abandoning it after every presidential election.
"We need to build a long-term political infrastructure," Mrs. Van Etten said. "We are fighting a 24/7 warfare for the next four years, not a two-month warfare every four years."
Simply naming Asians to high-profile federal jobs doesn't do the trick either.
"It doesn't translate into showing we care about Asian issues like reverse discrimination because Asians score so well on entrance exams," she said.
Shawn Steel, an RNC member from California — home to the highest concentration of Asian and Hispanic voters — joked that "we need to embrace spicy food and drop the phony 'outreach' of the past."
A similar outreach plan will be offered for Hispanic voters. It remains to be seen how much of the RNC's resources will go into engaging black voters, whose desertion of the party of Lincoln seems almost total now.
Appealing to minority voters is not the only item on the week's agenda.
RNC conservatives were also angered over the "autopsy's" suggestions that the RNC permit the awarding of presidential nomination candidates only by primaries, a move that would have placed a greater burden on insurgent candidates such as Texas Rep. Ron Paul to compete in the Republican presidential race.
Mr. Priebus has named conservative constitutional attorney Jim Bopp as special counsel to work with RNC General Counsel John Ryder on ways to restore rules for nominating presidential candidates and to preserve the states' rights to set the dates of their presidential nominating contests and other party functions that favor the grassroots activists over the party's leadership.
Some states select delegates to the GOP presidential nominating convention via caucuses or state conventions where conservative hopefuls with more limited campaign resources stand a better chance than in an expensive statewide primary contest.
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About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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