CHARLOTTE, NC — The Republican Party's formalized soul-searching process is well underway, with members of the committee assigned to study its two straight presidential electoral losses saying they will have a completed report available by March.
The so-called "Growth and Opportunity Project" is considering structural recommendations to the party but is shying away from suggesting new policies, officials said.
"We're not a policy group," said committee co-chair and former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, rejecting speculation that the group would advocate for more moderate policies on immigration and social issues. "We're not going to make policy recommendations to the [party]."
Instead, Republican Party insiders appear to be unanimously blaming its losses on ill-considered messaging and outreach — along with a severe technological and organizational disadvantage.
"We get it — we accept the fact that we lost — we're looking forward now," said Oklahoma GOP chairman Matt Pinnell. "We need to be disciplined in our messaging. We need to talk to more people where they are."
"We need to learn how to develop the kind of local grassroots organization the Republican Party used to be known for," said New Hampshire committeeman Steve Duprey.
The committee is co-chaired by five party veterans: Henry Barbour, National Committeeman from Mississippi; Zori Fonalledas, National Committeewoman from Puerto Rico; Glenn McCall, National Committeeman from South Carolina; Sally Bradshaw, a Florida political strategist; and Fleischer.
Barbour said members are devoting several hours a day to the post-mortem, speaking to "a broad range of people, from moderate to conservative to more conservative," and that while some of the results will be made public, some of the recommendations would remain confidential.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich addressed the RNC Thursday to push for the party to show a more friendly side to women and minorities — a sentiment expressed by nearly every committee member.
"We're going to demonstrate by listening and saying that you matter — you are the government," said North Carolina chairman Robin Hayes. "We need to engage on every issue that matters to people."
"There have been times where we've certainly had candidates who come across as hostile," acknowledged Barbour, noting that the party has recently selected candidates at all levels who could not go the distance, including tea party candidates who alienated moderate voters.
"We want to nominate candidates that can win in the general elections," he added. "If we can't nominate candidates that can win general elections what are we doing. We are in the business of winning elections."
Complicating the committee's task, Fleischer described a "tale of two parties" — one that, at the state level, holds 30 governorships and excels in statehouses, and another at the federal level that couldn't win the Senate and has blown two presidential races. The reason for the divide, he suggested, is the difference in the quality of candidates.
"Voters respond to candidates they like, and if you have an upbeat, optimistic affable, ideological, strong candidate — that's one of the most important factors," Fleischer said. "And we want to design a process here that allows voters to pick that candidate.
Bradshaw said a key recommendation of the committee will be a stronger organizational presence, more akin to the permanent campaign Obama maintained between 2008 and 2012 and less like the pop-up organization Romney launched in the final six months before election day.
"We are going to go into areas that we don't typically go into and talk to people we don't usually talk to," she said.
But when asked if the party could catch up in time for the 2016 cycle, Bradshaw said, "I don't know yet."