The Growth And Opportunity Project: A One-Year Check-Up

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The definition of insanity, according to the over-used proverb attributed to Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Many political organizations don’t understand that principle. But the RNC, under Chairman Reince Priebus, does. After 2012’s disappointing election, he vowed to end the cycle of repeating the same thing—and to do things differently.

The five of us served as co-chairs of the Growth and Opportunity Project, an independent review panel that Chairman Priebus convened after the presidential election to make recommendations about how to grow the party and win more elections. We spent three months and received input from over 52,000 individuals—from surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one meetings.

While the report provided recommendations on what the party at large needed to do, we’re pleased to see that the RNC has made tremendous progress on many of our recommendations in the course of the past year. Likewise, many of the other party committees and outside groups have also embraced aspects of the report and should be commended for their progress.

We touched on a broad range of issues, but the most important recommendations centered around three areas: engaging more voters with a positive message through a permanent, nationwide, diverse field operation; modernizing data and digital capabilities to provide tools for state parties and campaigns for voter contact; and updating the presidential primary, debate, and convention process to strengthen the eventual nominee.

On the voter engagement front, we discussed the need to make investments, including hiring national and state-based staff, to communicate directly with African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Pacific Americans. The party “has to stop talking to itself,” we noted, and we urged Republicans to engage with voters who don’t always identify with Republicans.

Here, the RNC has heeded the advice, hiring political and communications professionals in both the national office and in the field. Chairman Priebus has made this a year-round, long-term commitment, and the RNC has made similar commitments in reaching out to women voters and young voters. At the same time, the RNC has taken steps to strengthen ties with conservative groups and allies.

Last year we noted, “The pervasive mentality of writing off blocks of states or demographic votes for the Republican Party must be completely forgotten.” As best we can tell, at the RNC that mentality has, thankfully, been forgotten.

By the fall of 2013, the RNC had more staff in the field than in their headquarters. Today, 91 percent of their political staff is state-based, including data directors and minority engagement staffers in all targeted 2014 states. Overall they’ve made investments in every state—over $12 million in political and state party investments in a year.

On the data, digital, and technology fronts, there was no doubt that much work needed to be done. We noted that if the party wants to win it must have “better data, better access to data, and better tools to make the most of that data.”

And now the RNC has made a multi-million investment in this area. Heeding our recommendation, the RNC has hired a Chief Technology Officer, Chief Digital Officer, and Chief Data Officer. They in turn have built up staffs in their respective fields and even opened an office in Silicon Valley. What we needed in data were the right brains who could come up with the right technology to target voters and win elections. That's what the RNC has done.

We were pleased to see the launch of Para Bellum Labs earlier this year. As a startup-like initiative within the RNC, its goal is to continue recruiting “the deeper talent pool” that we said was needed, as well as developing useful tools for improving the quantity and quality of voter data—and the ability to share it with the entire party.

Finally, on the issue of the primary system, we argued for changes to the primary process, fewer debates, and an earlier convention. Chairman Priebus and the RNC have taken action to make that recommendation a reality by enacting changes to the RNC rules at the recent Winter Meeting in Washington, DC.

As we look back, it’s important to remember that we weren’t making recommendations only to the RNC. Candidates and other committees had lessons to learn as well. That’s why we continue to urge our candidates to do their part to engage with all communities and people of all backgrounds so that voters conclude that the GOP is a welcoming and inclusive party.

We’re proud to see the increased collaboration of the various Republican committees through initiatives like Women on the Right Unite. We think this can produce positive results and help the party achieve its larger goals of recruiting more women candidates and appealing to more women. We hope this work will continue.

We’re also glad to see our call for “an outside group…that focuses solely on research” was answered in the form of America Rising.

The truth is the work has only begun. Our charge was to make recommendations for the long-term growth and health of the party—not for short term, short-lived gains. Even as we evaluate the work that’s going on, we recognize that there is much more left to do. But one year after the release of the Growth and Opportunity Project report, we’re glad to see Republicans are doing things differently. They’re not “doing the same thing,” and we can begin “expecting different results.” 

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