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What happened to that GOP makeover?
There are worrisome signs that the Republican Party is the same as it ever was
 
Jeb Bush at the this year's Hispanic Leadership Network conference.
Jeb Bush at the this year's Hispanic Leadership Network conference. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

In March, the Republican National Committee released its so-called autopsy of the 2012 elections. It focused mainly on the growing Hispanic vote — of which Mitt Romney garnered only 27 percent.

To avoid being seen as the party of "stuffy old men," the report said, the GOP would have to change its messaging, become more inclusive, and embrace issues like immigration reform. Otherwise, the "Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

How is the rebranding effort working so far?

Not great. Earlier this month, Pablo Pantoja, the GOP's Hispanic outreach director in Florida, switched to the Democratic Party, citing a "culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party." He said he was partly inspired by the revelation that Jason Richwine, who co-authored a widely publicized anti-immigration report for the Heritage Foundation, once wrote a controversial dissertation arguing against admitting Hispanic immigrants with low IQs.

Incidents like that certainly aren't helping the GOP's image. Worse, fringe GOP candidates are making a splash in prominent statewide races, writes Josh Kraushaar at National Journal. He points to two states, Virginia and Colorado, where Republicans are losing ground despite the fact that Democrats there are vulnerable.

In Colorado, where Hispanic people made up 42 percent of all population growth between 2000 and 2010, Republican Tom Tancredo, who has taken a hard line against immigration reform, has emerged as a legitimate contender in the 2014 governor's race. If Tancredo has read the RNC's report, his March op-ed in the Christian Post — in which he chastised Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for speaking Spanish, and supported Romney's disastrous "self-deportation" strategy — certainly doesn't show it.

Virginia is even more worrisome for the GOP. The party's nominee for the gubernatorial race in 2013, Ken Cuccinelli, is a hardcore conservative who has not only pushed for English-only workplaces, but has defended laws that criminalize sodomy, alienating younger voters who overwhelmingly identify with the Democratic Party. Polls show him trailing his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, despite the fact that McAuliffe has been called a "soulless hack" by members of his own party and worse.

Meanwhile, the GOP's nominee for lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson, is even more conservative, dragging the Republican ticket down further. (Among other controversial statements and positions, Jackson has claimed that Planned Parenthood has killed more blacks than the KKK.) As Dave Weigel at Slate put it, "Democrats win in Virginia, in off-years, when they convince suburbanites that the GOP has lost its mind."

Furthermore, the GOP is struggling to come up with mainstream candidates who can compete in Senate races in Colorado and Virginia in 2014. The irony is that the GOP should be in a position of strength in those races, writes Kraushaar:

What's remarkable is that these swing-state setbacks are taking place in what's shaping up to be a promising political environment for Republicans. The off-year electorate, on paper, should be more conservative than in 2012, with younger voters and minorities less likely to show up for a midterm election. The scent of scandal threatens to weigh down Democrats over the next year. The implementation of Obama's health care law, polling as poorly as ever, will be taking place right as the midterms begin in earnest. This is the stuff that should be catnip for prospective GOP recruits.

But instead we're hearing crickets in these two Senate races, not to mention a handful of other battleground contests (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Hampshire) where Republicans should be faring better. [National Journal]

Exacerbating the problem is that most elected Republican officials have no incentive to go after the Hispanic or youth vote. The average Republican district is 75 percent white and GOP congressmen overall represent 6.6 million fewer minorities in 2012 than they did in 2010, according to USA Today.

While the massive redistricting that produced those numbers might help Republicans keep their House seats, they certainly won't help the party expand on a national level — which is where the ultimate prize, the presidency, will be determined.

Then there are the stream of controversial comments from the party's right wing — like this from conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, and this from pundit Ann Coulter. Put together, the party's perceived hostility toward non-white groups could offset any goodwill built by the likes of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has championed immigration reform in the Senate. The success of that legislation is seen by many GOP analysts as crucial to the party's electoral prospects.

It's worth keeping in mind that there's a lot of room for growth in the Hispanic vote in the next couple of elections. Esther J. Cepeda at The Washington Post crunched the Census numbers and found that only 48 percent of eligible Hispanic voters went to the polls in 2012, compared to 64.1 percent of white voters and 66.2 percent of black voters.

If Democrats can rally those voters, especially in swing states, Republicans will be releasing more autopsy reports in the future.

 
Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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