WASHINGTON (AP) — Together, they delivered a post-election autopsy with a dire prediction: Republican survival requires embracing a message of tolerance and respect in an increasingly diverse United States.
Yet on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration four years later, the authors of the Republican National Committee’s 2013 “Growth and Opportunity Project” concede their report is little more than an afterthought as members gather in Washington to celebrate their party’s success. The authors tell The Associated Press they continue to believe the GOP must improve its standing with women, Hispanics and black voters in the age of Trump, but they disagree on a path forward.
One of the five authors quit the Republican Party to protest Trump. The others stayed, but as their party prepares to control the White House, House and Senate for the first time in nearly a decade, they have abandoned any sense of urgency to address Republicans’ persistent struggles with women and minorities.
“I don’t think there’s an issue. Trump won,” said Glenn McCall, an African-American committeeman from South Carolina who helped write the section of the report that said: “The Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.”
The tough-talking Trump has refused to soften his tone with virtually anyone.
Only this past weekend, the president-elect lashed out at civil rights legend John Lewis as the nation prepared to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The incoming president, responding to criticism from the Democratic congressman, called Lewis “all talk” and charged without evidence that his Georgia district is “crime-ridden” and “falling apart.”
Another author of the report, veteran Republican strategist Sally Bradshaw, determined there is no path forward with Trump in the White House.
“I still stand by the report, and so much so that I left the party over Donald Trump’s treatment of women and minorities,” Bradshaw told the AP. “That report was a roadmap for long-term sustained wins by Republicans — celebrity and anger really aren’t much of a long-term strategy. Absent engaging with the changing demographic make-up of our nation, any GOP victory is likely short-lived.”
Bradshaw, who most recently served as chief strategist for Jeb Bush’s failed 2016 presidential bid, now runs a bookstore in Florida.
Another author, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, has given up hope that Trump will adopt a “welcoming and inclusive tone,” as he called for in the autopsy.
“It ain’t happening. At least not for Donald Trump,” Fleischer said.
Trump’s 2016 success, he said, came from his unique ability to expand the Republican electorate by winning over new white working-class voters. His performance with women and minorities, however, was little better than Mitt Romney’s underwhelming showing four years ago.
“Donald Trump was able to come in and expand the party in a way that nobody anticipated,” Fleischer said. “That doesn’t change demographics. And the Republicans’ central issue remains: America is becoming more diverse. And Republicans have got to expand in order to be successful.”
Trump won the presidency by the narrowest of margins.
The president-elect lost the popular vote by more than 2.9 million votes, but he scored the necessary electoral votes with the help of unexpected victories across the industrial Midwest. He won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined 82,000 votes out of roughly 13 million cast.
Trump struggled in swing states with larger minority populations, losing Colorado and Nevada where the Hispanic population is booming. And his margin of victory in Texas and Arizona, traditional Republican strongholds with large minority communities, was narrower than that of any other Republican presidential contender in at least two decades.
Among African-Americans, Trump got 8 percent of the vote, slightly better than Romney’s 6 percent against President Barack Obama, according to national exit polls.
For now, at least, the glass is half-full.
“Frankly, there’s a lot that those of us who wrote the report could have learned from Donald Trump,” said another author, Henry Barbour, a Republican national committeeman from Mississippi. “Be more the party of working-class folks.”
Yet Barbour described the report’s conclusion that the GOP must improve its standing with minority voters “a fundamental truth.”
“Trump’s come a long ways in that regard,” Barbour said. “And he’s made plain he wants to be the president for all of America. I’m encouraged. I think we’re making pretty good progress.”
Trump will take the oath of office Friday as the least popular incoming president in at least four decades, according to polls.
Perhaps more disturbing to some Republican strategists is Trump’s standing among women.
National exit polls showed that Trump lost women overall by 13 points last fall. Fleischer noted that he was the first Republican nominee to lose college-educated white women in the modern political era.
While Bradshaw thinks Trump is a lost cause, Fleischer predicts his performance over the next four years could improve the Republican Party’s standing with key demographics regardless of his harsh rhetoric.
“Donald Trump’s presidency, along with much of the future of the Republican Party, is going to rise and fall with the status of the economy,” Fleischer said, then added: “If the economy tanks, it’s a very different future for the Republican Party.”
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