BOSTON | GOP leaders had hoped this week’s summer meeting in Boston would focus on preparations for 2016 and efforts to improve the party’s ground game — but leaders are finding they can’t avoid the thorny policy issues, including immigration, that have deeply divided Republicans in Washington and nationwide.
As delegates gathered ahead of the official meetings, which began Wednesday and run through Friday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich highlighted the party’s ideological split on immigration when he said he opposed the broad overhaul some Republicans helped usher through the Senate in June.
“I actually favor the House approach, and I hope the House doesn’t back down,” Mr. Gingrich said, alluding to House GOP’s plans to take a piecemeal approach to fixing the immigration system. “I am deeply opposed to a 1,100-page bill that nobody understands and that was cut in a series of deals by gangs who met in secret and that didn’t have open markups and that didn’t have open processes. We are vastly better off to pass seven or eight or nine small bills — each of them logically fixing something.”
Mr. Gingrich was part of the summer meeting’s opening act, co-headlining a workshop that centered on taking advantage of new technologies and revamping the party’s national brand.
Titled “Making It Happen,” the summer gathering is being held at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, the same hotel that hosted Mitt Romney’s election night party in November.
This week’s meeting marks the third Republican National Committee conference since the 2012 election, which saw Republicans unable to capitalize on sluggish economic growth and high unemployment. Instead, President Obama won a second term and Democrats picked up seats in Congress.
The event features several headliners, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a likely 2016 presidential contender who recently traded jabs over fiscal policy with Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, who is also positioning himself for a presidential run.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters he’ll try to use the meeting to address the issues over which he can exert some control, including building a better get-out-the-vote effort and creating a technology division that can compete with the version Democrats and Mr. Obama rode to victory last year.
But even as he tries to keep focus, delegates will be debating many of the same issues that are roiling Washington, including the NSA’s phone-records collection program, immigration, and how best to halt Mr. Obama’s health care law.
On that third issue, Republican leaders in Congress are trying to fend off calls by rank-and-file lawmakers to shut down the government unless the health law is halted.
Mr. Priebus shrugged off the idea that the party is divided on Obamacare.
“My job is to promote everybody,” he told reporters. “I am in favor of 100 percent of our caucus and I am not going to take sides on tactics. But I do think that we have a party that is totally united to defund and get rid of Obamacare.”
The party, he said, agrees on freezing government spending, balancing the federal budget, and reducing the national debt, as well as advancing tort reform and school choice.
Mr. Priebus said that is the reason why he is working hard to cultivate a winning ground game and wants to tweak the Republican primary system. “Our party should not be involved in setting up a system that encourages the slicing and dicing of candidates over a long period of time with moderators who are not at all in the business of being at all concerned about the future our party,” he said.
The RNC is expected to consider a plan this week barring NBC and CNN from hosting any GOP primary debates in the 2016 election cycle unless network officials pull the plug on a scheduled television miniseries and documentary about Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is considered the clear front-runner for the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination.