Mark Schoeff Jr.: Indiana Members critique GOP self-assessment
Tuesday, April 02, 2013 5:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation assert that the GOP should maintain its principles but be more open to those who disagree with some of them – echoing a recent national party overhaul plan.
“Conservative values are good for everyone,” said U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD. “We need to [say] that in a way that doesn’t alienate anyone; that doesn’t put litmus tests on people’s views and exclude them from the Republican Party.”
A 100-page report released last week by the Republican National Committee, “The Growth and Opportunity Project,” largely made the same point. It offered a sober, sometimes scathing, assessment of the party’s shortcomings that led to the loss of House and Senate seats in 2012.
The document said that the party has driven away young and minority voters and that it reached “all time lows” in public perception.
“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,” the report states.
It goes on to recommend dozens of changes in messaging, campaign mechanics, fundraising and outreach to various demographic groups.
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, said that the report is “very balanced and candid.” The self-analysis could help the party expand its appeal beyond the elderly and married couples. “It wouldn’t be a good growth strategy to simply wait around for the young to get old and the single to get married,” Messer said. “We need to grow our base.”
The report by the national Republican Party reminds Messer of one that the state GOP wrote in 2002, when he was the party’s executive director and Jim Kittle was chairman. That blueprint was meant to be catalyze the “rebirth” of the state party in part by increasing African Americans and Hispanic support.
Messer said that the effort was “modestly successful” and demonstrated that follow-up is central to party improvement. “The key is that the outreach not just be symbolic,” Messer said. “It needs to be organized, persistent and include the investment of meaningful resources over time.”
Hispanics should be a natural constituency for Republicans, according to Messer, because by and large Latinos are family oriented, hard working and socially conservative. But they voted overwhelmingly Democratic in 2012.
“We don’t have enough trust with that community for them even to listen to us,” Messer said.
The GOP report acknowledges that the party also has significant ground to make up with other demographic groups that don’t include white males.
“We can and should be the party of young people, minorities, women and anyone else who shares our belief in free enterprise and limited government,” U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-4th CD, said in a statement. “My own campaign benefitted from support from many of these same groups because we took the time to have honest and real conversations about the issues they cared about. It takes hard work, but it’s a commitment our party must make.”
The GOP’s “limited government tent ought to be big enough to include differing opinions on social issues, immigration or even tax-and-spending issues,” Messer said.
That accommodation extends to same-sex marriage, a topic that was tackled by the Supreme Court this week. Messer emphasized that he supports traditional marriage between a man and a woman. “Our party must be big enough to include a diversity of opinions, but my view hasn’t changed,” Messer said.
None of the lawmakers who talked to HPI suggested that Republicans should alter their policy stances. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that the party’s insistence on cutting federal spending resonates in north central Indiana.
“The feeling I’m getting is that people are very glad they have a clear choice on the budget,” Walorski said.
As she travels around the district – and goes to her local supermarket each Saturday – she said that people are less concerned about party labels than the direction that Congress is going.
This is especially true of the women Walorski meets. They are most often concerned about the economy.
“They want to know what I’m doing to make sure they have more money in their pockets,” Walorski said.
That’s a general theme from all constituents.
“They want to know what I’m doing for them,” Walorski said. “They’ll tell me I’m doing a good job or ‘I don’t agree with that.’”
Bucshon also stressed that he’s an “honest, straight shooter” about his own political views when talking to voters but that he tries to demonstrate that they’re all his constituents.
“We’re working on everyone’s behalf regardless of who you are,” he said.
Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.