Emerging from the 2012 elections, the Republican Party's formal postmortem concluded it needed to do a better job reaching women, minorities and young voters. A year later, they are failing on each of those scores — and the government shutdown set them back even more.
Polling after the 16-day shutdown, which ended last week in a near-complete victory for President Obama, showed the party polling poorly among all three key groups the party said it wanted to reach.
Indeed, majorities of women, younger generation and non-white voters now say it's a bad thing that the Republican Party controls the House.
"By taking such a hard line on this topic, the party reinforced negative perceptions of extremism and unwillingness to compromise," said Darrell M. West of the Brookings Institution. "Fiery rhetoric helps with the base but does a poor job reaching out to young people and women."
Overall, the Republican Party has struggled to meet the broad goals of its Growth and Opportunity Project — the Republican National Committee's 100-page evaluation of what went wrong with the 2012 elections.
Among the other recommendations were that the party improve fundraising, fix its polling and find a way to harness grass-roots supporters.
But the latest fundraising numbers show national Democratic Party committees narrowly outpacing Republicans, for the fist time since the election. The budget showdown continued to expose bitter divisions between rank-and-file voters and the Republican establishment that plagued the party during the presidential primaries.
The split was apparent in Congress, where leaders struck a deal to raise the debt and reopen government without winning any concessions on cutting spending.
Most Republicans in Congress voted against the deal. Tea party candidates hoping to unseat incumbents are using the debt vote as ammunition, but some key House Republicans eyeing Senate seats next year voted for the deal. Reps. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Steve Daines of Montana were among the 87 House Republicans who joined 198 Democrats to support the debt deal.
RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said that once the dust settles from the legislative fight, it will be clear that the party is headed in the right direction over the long haul.
"In the short term, everyone agrees this process was messy. We tried but we didn't win," Ms. Kukowski said. "In the long run, we are on the right side of the issues from Obamacare to spending and our debt and we will be rewarded for being the only party with a plan to get them under control. From the RNC perspective, we have more field staff on the ground than ever before who are making daily personal contacts on the important issues."
The Growth and Opportunity Project was meant to look at how 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost a race that many Republican strategists thought was winnable, against an incumbent president overseeing a sluggish economy and high unemployment.
The report authors concluded that the party needed to build the behind-the-scenes political machinery to engage in combat with Democrats, as well as find a way to connect with young, female and minority voters — particularly Hispanics who "wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country."
"We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only," the report said.
Led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Republicans helped pushed an immigration bill through the Senate in June. Those efforts have stalled in the House, though, where Republicans are more opposed to granting a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants.
And the political payoff hasn't come.
"I don't think we have seen any particular shift in the views of Latinos toward the GOP," said Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
Mr. Dimock said the House's refusal to take up the Senate immigration bill has reinforced the notion that Republicans were never serious about adopting the kinds of reforms that Hispanics support.
"I don't think it helped the Republican Party's image because the broader image was that the Republican Party was opposed to a path to citizenship — and that Rubio was the exception and not the rule for the GOP," he said. "Sometimes a member of the party diverging from the party-line kind of reinforces" the general stance of the party.
Ana Navarro, who worked Hispanic outreach for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential bid, said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and his team "get an A for effort."
"He's doing what he can in terms of laying groundwork and dedicating human and economic resources to building a long-term structure," Ms. Navarro said. "But the reality is Reince has no control over Republicans in Congress or outside voices that shape the debate and affect policy. It's hard to rebrand when you still have Republicans using negative rhetoric towards immigrants and when the policy hasn't changed."
"Too often," she said, "the voices of reason get drowned out by louder voices who hurt the effort of broadening the base."
Polls now show the party is still struggling to broaden its national appeal and likely dug itself into a deeper hole after Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah led a renegade group of lawmakers who called on Congress to withhold all government spending unless Mr. Obama agreed to cancel Obamacare.
A Washington Post/ABC poll released Tuesday showed that 77 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way Republicans have handled budget negotiations on Capitol Hill. Even worse for Republicans, more than six in 10 women and minority voters said they have an unfavorable view of the party, as did 58 percent of those ages 18 to 39.
A CNN/ORC survey released Monday showed that 56 percent of women and 65 percent of non-whites said it is bad for the country that Republicans control the House. By wide margins, those two voting blocs also said they have more confidence in Mr. Obama than Republicans to tackle the nation's most pressing problems.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.