The biggest story of the past election was how President Obama’s team was able to get his interest groups to the polls and how correspondingly the Republicans feel behind on certain interest groups. It is clear Republican failed to capture the votes of Hispanics, Asians and other groups. So let’s take a look at where they are and what they need to do.
To discover what happened one has to look at what the Republicans have been doing and why they failed to attract certain voters. The first and most important point is not that they have failed policies or that they are the “old white man” party. Either point is a gross generalization and only partially true. The single biggest reason Republicans are not getting the votes of certain minorities is they are not asking for their votes and/or certainly not doing it on a sustained basis.
Take for example the Hispanic community. There are few Republican organizations that actively outreach to the community. Rocky Chavez, a newly-elected California Assemblyman, told us he received no help from Republicans in his race. To her credit Connie Conway, minority leader of the California Assembly, drafted Rocky immediately after his election to be a statewide spokesperson.
The Republican National Committee stated they had a Hispanic Outreach coordinator and that the Romney campaign usurped control of the outreach, but the Republican share of the Hispanic vote plummeted from 44% in 2004 to 27% in 2012. Results speak very loudly.
The Asian Community, though smaller than the Hispanic Community, is the fasting growing in America. Yet the results there are very similar, with the percentage tanking from 42% in 2004 to 26% in 2012. Stephen Fong, who is a public policy consultant in D.C., served as an informal coordinator of a loose federation of about fifty organizations aimed at the Asian vote. He stated they had some successes -- like in Nevada where Romney received 47% of the Asian vote. But he stated “The Romney campaign had a plan, but did not emphasize Asian-Pacific outreach.” He also stated the point person was not Asian.
Shawn Steel, the national committeeman from California, expressed frustration at the efforts aimed at Asians by Republicans. He stated the effort in Nevada was done with $100,000 of outside monies in the last month of the campaign. He bemoaned how the Romney campaign and RNC to his knowledge spent no money going after the Asian vote while the Obama campaign spent extensive resources. Mr. Steel stated “When will Republican consultants begin to understand their past failures to appreciate rapid demographic shifts? Successful consultants will take advantage of the many opportunities that exist with conservative-minded Asians.”
The most successful operation aimed at an ethnic group is the Republican Jewish Coalition. After a long gestation period and an outsized focus on money raising for candidates, the RJC has now created a sophisticated grassroots outreach program. Matt Brooks, the RJC Executive Director, said “This was our largest undertaking in terms of grass roots in history.” Their efforts resulted in a 10% increase in Republican vote in the Jewish Community. The RNC is looking at modeling what the RJC is doing to organize and attract the minority communities.
Yet, there does not seem to be much existing infrastructure at the RNC to attract minority voters. Sources said there was none when the current Chairman, Reince Priebus, took charge. He asked Vice-Chair Sharon Day to focus on this area. But then the Romney campaign came in and took over. The spokesperson for the RNC told us they are evaluating all the results of the election and determining how to move forward.
How to move forward - The big picture is that Republicans are running campaigns with an antiquated model for their entire structure. Sure they are using some modern technology, but it is as the saying goes like “putting lipstick on a pig.” Republicans do not think as a team. A person declares they want to run for office and they have to start from scratch. They have to hire a consultant who may be qualified or not. They have to hire a fundraiser who may be qualified or not. They then have to run a campaign with little to no institutional knowledge except for possibly a one-day candidates school put on by their local party.
If Republicans want to win in the future, they have to comprehensively reorganize. The structure should start with the National Committee with 50 state units, each one of which has county parties within their state. The entities should not be wholly independent entities, but work in unison with one purpose – to elect Republican candidates. They may say that is being done now, but that is fool’s gold.
Each unit should have people in charge of outreach to interest groups, whether those groups are divided by ethnicity, religion, age or gender. (As a note there already exist Republican Women’s groups in each county.) There should be a flow of information both up and down throughout the structure. This clearly means that DC is just as dependent on a county as the county is on DC. The Miami-Dade County chair for Hispanic outreach should be in regular communication with the RNC coordinator.
Each level should be responsible for interacting with any interest groups that exist within the confines of the laws regarding coordinated activity. If there is a large Vietnamese population in an area and no Republican clubs, then the Party should act to form, seed and structure such groups.
When someone registers to become a candidate, the Republican Party in the area or district should be able to provide them sufficient information on the district to mount a campaign. Once they are the party designee they should be handed a complete up-to-date guidebook with all aspects of their district, including the relevant minority groups to address. The county, the state and the national party should all be working in unison to get the Assemblyman in Wichita, Kansas, elected or the school board member in Mesa, Arizona. The candidates should not be blindly running as we so often see today. If there are ethnic groups in the district, that structure from the local party up to the national party should provide resources to address and gain the vote of those ethnic groups. Candidates should not be lurching around for who their youth vote contacts are and how to incorporate them in a campaign.
A comprehensive organization needs to address every voter no matter what their background. The lack of institutional memory and proper structure is largely responsible for the failure to attract minority voters. Lincoln Clubs were great fifty years ago and provide valuable benefits today, but are not attractive to all elements of the population. Republicans need to adopt a strategy that says they are going after every voter no matter where they are or who they are. The structure should not be dependent on what happens once there is a presidential nominee. It should be fully in place before that occurs and then it should just be an matter of continuity.
This is not to deny the fact that issues and candidates matter. They do. But without a modern structure the party will be hopelessly lost. Republicans are driving a Model T in a Ferrari world and need to do more than cosmetic restructuring. Obama was driving that Ferrari.