The Republican National Committee's report on how to recover from its 2012 election losses is out, and the product is a strange combination of the intriguing, the illuminating, the hypocritical, and the humorous.
Alas, it's dark humor for anyone who might have been looking to the Grand Old Party—which the report seeks to rebrand as the "Growth and Opportunity Party"—for leadership in returning America to full employment and robust economic growth.
My favorite passage in the report was the one that called for bipartisanship. "Campaign committee office buildings are deteriorating for both parties," the report declares, describing it as "an issue where Republicans and Democrats can come together to forge a reasonable solution" and "revive the important historical role of parties and candidates in our democracy." The proposed solution? "Republicans and Democrats should unite to seek an additional $32,400 allowance for building fund contributions that does not affect donor federal aggregate limits."
How can you not laugh? The country is headed down the tubes, and all of a sudden the big priority for the politicians in Washington is changing the campaign finance laws to make it easier for the political parties to build fancier headquarters buildings for themselves? Come on. If one of the party's goals is attracting younger voters, let the Republican Party officials get a taste of working from laptops and cellphones at Starbucks. It might serve as a reality check.
Elsewhere in the report, the Republicans aren't shy about spotlighting what they see as unattractive contrasts. "We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed," the report says. "We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years."
The phrase "speak out" there says volumes. It stops short of suggesting that the Republicans outlaw such practices, though the report doesn't hesitate to recommend legislative positions on other issues, such as immigration. Instead this seems to sound like another one where Republicans can "come together" with Democrats, this time to demonize business leaders.
If Republicans do feel moved to "speak out" on these issues they might observe that one reason corporate executives are receiving bonuses is because, in response to earlier "speaking out" over high executive pay, the 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act limited the tax deductibility of executive pay of more than $1 million a year unless it was "performance-based." Why is it that middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise? In part because the value of their wages has been eroded by inflation (in a country where the value of the dollar is delegated by the politicians to the Federal Reserve), and in part because the cost of their health insurance, which is part of their compensation, has escalated as the insurers comply with government mandates.
Those points aren't in the report, What is there, however, is a recommendation that, "as a serious priority, the field finance staff should assist state parties in establishing a plan to raise corporate money early in the cycle to relieve pressure later in the cycle of federal dollars."
So there it is, the biggest brains in the Republican Party convene and conduct 36,000 online surveys, more than 3,000 "group listening sessions," more than 50 focus groups, and more than 800 conference calls. And what they come up with is a 100-page plan to "speak out" about corporate CEO pay while at the same time making it "a serious priority" to "raise corporate money early in the cycle"?
As I said, it's dark humor.
The campaign speech section of the report is also not without its ironies. "Although the Supreme Court thankfully has restored the First Amendment rights of many organizations, the free speech rights of political parties and federal candidates remain smothered by McCain-Feingold," the report says, studiously ignoring the fact that this same McCain who did the smothering was, less than five years ago, the Republican Party's presidential nominee.
The Republican Party's touching concern for free speech does not, however, extend to debates among its party's primary candidates. "There have been too many debates," the report says. "The number of debates has become ridiculous….The number of debates should be reduced by roughly half to a still robust number of approximately 10 to 12." It goes so far as to recommend consideration of the possibility of penalizing candidates by docking them delegates at the convention if the candidates participate in too many debates.
I don't want to be too harsh. There are plenty of recommendations in the report that the Republicans will want to take seriously, among them the ideas to "establish a private archive and public website that does nothing but post inappropriate Democrat utterances," to move the Republican National Convention forward to June or July from August, to improve the use of technology and data analytics, and to engage the Republican governors in the work of strengthening the party's appeal to voters outside its traditional stronghold of older white men.
If the Republican Party has a future, it's going to be driven not from national committee headquarters, even one spruced up by newly legal $32,400 building fund contributions from the same CEOs whose pay the Republicans are supposed to feel newly liberated to denounce. There are some questions, after all, best answered not by a committee or by a conference call but by a candidate.