WASHINGTON -- A year after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus commissioned a report that suggested sweeping changes in how the party operates, he touted progress on many fronts -- but distanced himself from a key recommendation to increase its appeal to the Latino community: support for comprehensive immigration reform.
In a breakfast with reporters Tuesday tied to the anniversary of the release of the "Growth and Opportunity Project," Priebus detailed structural changes he said have "fundamentally reshaped the way we do business at the RNC." They include a major investment to eliminate a technology gap Democrats have enjoyed, largely because of the sophisticated data operation of President Obama's reelection campaign, as well as the deployment of a "permanent, coast-to-coast, year-round ground game" intended to spread the Republican message in communities Priebus said the party had long ignored.
Appealing to growing demographic groups, such as the Latino community, was a major component of the 100-page document, with its authors noting how "precarious" the party's position has become. Its first recommendation was for Republicans to engage with ethnic minority voters and "show our sincerity." Second was to "embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform."
"If we do not, our Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only," the authors stated.
Asked about that recommendation at the breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Priebus said he "generally" supports the idea but that there were disagreements in both parties about exactly what comprehensive reform should look like. He also noted that leading GOP figures have talked about the need for immigration reform, as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky did in a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"I think we do need to tackle this issue. And I think there's general agreement in the party that that needs to happen. But I would say that there's not agreement as to what exactly that package looks like," he said.
He downplayed the role of immigration reform as a gateway issue for Latino voters, saying it was more important for the party to simply engage with the community to share its message on other key issues.
"Showing up is a big part of the battle," he said. "Actually 37% of Hispanics identify themselves as conservatives. But if we don't go into Hispanic communities on a year-round basis and explain what it is that we believe as a party, then those dots can never be connected."
Asked by a reporter after the breakfast to discuss when immigration reform ought to be taken up, Priebus said it was a question better posed to congressional leadership. And when challenged on the issue, he went further in seeming to distance himself from the recommendation.
"This is not the RNC's report," he said. "It was a report that the RNC asked these people to put together. … And the report speaks to an array of issues that partly affect us and partly affect other people. And you're asking me about a particular issue in the report that speaks to the legislature."
Indeed, the RNC's primary role is to support Republican candidates tactically across the country. Priebus in particular has focused on ending what he has called a "tale of two parties" – one GOP that thrives in midterm years but struggles in national presidential years.
This year promises to be a "tsunami-type" year for the GOP, Priebus said, primarily because Obamacare has become so "poisonous" for Democrats.
"But I need to – and we need to at the RNC – make sure that we can capture the positives and the benefits that we've been able to provide in 2014 and build on that to have success in 2016, which is a very different type of election with different issues that move the electorate at play," he said.
The Democratic National Committee put out its own report tied to the anniversary of what has been called the GOP's post-2012 "autopsy," saying the GOP is actually the "Same Old Party."
"What changes we have seen from the Republican Party are superficial and tactical, but do little to address their core problem – that they have an out-of-touch agenda," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chair of the DNC, said at a separate news conference Tuesday. "They've hired outreach staff and placed them in communities they've never been in before. But how effective is outreach when your agenda keeps alienating the communities you are trying to reach?"Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times