Opinion and Forefront

HOWEY: Republicans scald selves with critique

March 30, 2013

Brian HoweyIt was lunchtime reading unlike any other Craig Dunn had seen.

The Howard County Republican chairman had thumbed through the 100-page “Growth and Opportunity Report” published March 18 by the Republican National Committee. It was a scathing and unprecedented self-assessment for a party that has lost four of the last six presidential elections, has seen its support among Hispanics—the fastest growing voting bloc in the nation—halved, while young people cringe at the GOP’s right-flank obsession with social issues such as gay marriage.

“I agree with the vast majority of the report,” said Dunn, who had attended a listening session in Indianapolis with Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus on March 5.

Dunn recalled Priebus’ telling an audience that included Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb, “Politics is the art of addition.”

“We must grow the party,” Dunn said. “The statistics do not lie and they are ugly and challenging. We have waged war against ourselves on many issues. We have many people in our party who would rather lose elections than compromise on anything.”

Dunn was one of more than 60 county chairs who abandoned Dick Lugar and backed Richard Mourdock in a U.S. Senate race last year that not only cost $51 million, but ended up with “U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana.”

Mourdock’s calling card was against “bipartisanship” and his inflammatory rhetoric on issues such as immigration and abortion.

“Public perception of the party is at record lows,” the report observed. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country while Hispanics will grow to 29 percent and Asians to 9 percent.

Holcomb, a political aide to former Gov. Mitch Daniels (who attracted more than 20 percent of African-American votes and more than 40 percent of Hispanics in 2008), told me, “It is important to constantly reassess, re-evaluate and improve in order to be successful. It proves we are serious about righting the ship. We need a course correction, but it doesn’t mean we abandon our principles.”

Holcomb added, “We know there is one unifying issue, and that’s the economy and jobs. If we’re AWOL to the jobs and economy, if we’re not relating to the jobs and economy and what it means to them, then we’re not going to get a chance to go in and defend these positions. We just elected a president with record high unemployment rate. Why? Because we were not sufficient on the issue that united everyone.”

The report added, “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Indiana recently sparred over the “purity” question, with the Indiana Republican Central Committee electing John Hammond III to the national committee over Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp Jr., who had proposed a purity test for the RNC.

While Holcomb and Dunn have commented in wake of the report, the governor, congressional and legislative leaders have not. And that might be telling in and of itself.•

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Howey is a third-generation Hoosier journalist who publishes Howey Politics Indiana. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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