Republicans now have a comprehensive "autopsy" report detailing some of the perceived and some of the real shortcomings of the 2012 presidential election. And the rather optimistically named Growth and Opportunity Project's report is jampacked with so many painfully obvious observations that one wonders why it had to be written in the first place.
You may not be surprised to learn, for instance, that a bunch of people find the Republican Party "scary," "narrow minded," "out of touch" and a party of "stuffy old men." Alas, the "perception that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates," states the report. This theme was in full display at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, as well. The GOP has to care more, a lot more.
As practical politics go (not to mention personal morality), compassion is never a bad idea. But rest assured, politically speaking, the GOP will never out-"care" the Democratic Party. It will never out-empathize it. Or out-diversify it. Or be able to promise that government can do more. And it shouldn't want to.
For starters, there's no reason to accept the liberal definition of caring—at all. Conservatives can be as compassionate as anyone else; just look at polls that gauge who gives to charities. It just so happens that conservatives don't like to do their caring with other people's money. If Republicans start holding up government as the principal source of empathy, hope and charity, America can expect an even bigger arms race in spending and dependency—the kind that, in the end, burdens the young and poor and everyone else.
It's one thing to be more diverse and open-minded, to engage all sorts of people, even to shift your opinions when generational forces or facts demand it. It's quite another to, as Newt Gingrich explained at CPAC, become a "party focused on the right to life and the right to a good life." To begin with, politicians are in no position to offer you a good life—or a right to it. Secondly, it's a myth that a good life isn't available to anyone who is genuinely seeking it. In any event, liberal populism already has a monopoly on victimhood, so there's scarce room for Republicans in that space.
In many tactical areas, the Growth and Opportunity Project seems to make sense. Modernization and more effective outreach are great ideas. The problem is that too often, the RNC allows Democrats to define the parameters of debate. There's way too much worrying about acceptance and far too little about persuasion.
As a practical matter, let's concede for a moment that conceding issues such as immigration, gay marriage and abortion makes sense—and that's the implicit message of the project's report. I'm sympathetic on a number of points, but what's the cost-benefit analysis? Folks in Washington are obsessed with winning, and winning is nice. But politics is their livelihood. Average Americans don't participate in the political process to join a team; they knock on doors because—as surprising as this may be to some—they believe in something.
And even though social conservatives feel as if they're being swept aside by Republican Beltway types, fiscal conservatism will fare no better under this thinking. The idea of free markets is a moral one—an American idea—and a sellable one. Yes, polls show that young Americans are more pro-government than ever. So it'd be nice if there were a plan to convince them of how wrong they are—as opposed to trying to sound more like the people they already agree with.