All-Star Panel: Extreme makeover for the GOP?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 18, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Our message was weak. Our ground game was insufficient. We weren't inclusive. We were behind in both data and digital. And our primary and debate process needed improvement.

SALLY BRADSHAW, RNC GROWTH AND OPPORTUNITY PROJECT: Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents. And many minorities think that Republicans don't like them or don't want them in our country.

ZORI FONALLEDAS, RNC GROWTH AHD OPPORTUNITY PROJECT: If Hispanics think we don't want them, here they will close their ears to our policies.


BAIER: Besides all that, everything is fine in the GOP. Today, a report out from the head of the GOP, the chairman, Reince Priebus, who said that focus group called the party "narrow-minded, out of touch, and stuffy old men," and also the party of the rich. We are back with the panel.  What about this report, Steve? And what does it mean for GOP?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think you have to look at the context of where this report was released and which it was commissioned, and that was the result of the 2012 election.

If you look – if you read in between the lines of this report, a lot of what is being said here is that in 2012 Republicans who had a bad candidate at the top of the ticket who ran a bad campaign. I think that is true. I think Mitt Romney was certainly a good man by all accounts, but I don't think he ran a good campaign. And in particular he manifested some personal characteristics that corresponded with the negative stereotypes of Republicans.

And you go back to the exit polls the one number that always stands out is the question asked of respondents, is this somebody who cares about people like me? And remember, Barack Obama had 81 percent of those who responded to that question and Mitt Romney had 18 percent. And 20 percent of the people who responded to that question said it was the most important characteristic. So I think this entire report is basically an effort to answer that question and resolve that. In that sense I think it is useful to have this kind of discussion for the Republican Party, but you have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions based on one year's experience.

BAIER: Juan, they had 52,000 interviews, I guess 36,000 surveys.  And they called it an autopsy, the GOP did, in looking back. What about it?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: I think that without a doubt the most interesting thing, that I think the moment for Republicans is that the divisions within the party. I think we saw some of it at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend. There are people -- a large segment of the Republican Party wants the party to be more conservative. They do not want the party to moderate their views in order to attract people who are -- women who are pro-abortion or minorities or immigrants who want a pathway to citizenship. In fact though, the one policy recommendation that came from this report today was that there has to be immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.

So overall, I think there is such tremendous tension within the party. And I think that is the story of the moment. The idea that Reince Priebus as chairman of the RNC is willing to take this on and not sugarcoat is it good news for the party. It suggests that he wants this party to change and to respond and respond to those ideas that were evident in Pew and Gallup and now from their open polls that they are out of touch and stuffy and old. And I just think they've got to move beyond it and get fresh.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I'm not sure the word "autopsy" is the most is felicitous since it generally applies to a corpse.

BAIER: It was their word.

KRAUTHAMMER: I understand. I'm not sure I would have chosen it, but it's out there.

Look, I think there's a difference here between ideology and technique. I'm not sure you want the RNC deciding ideology. We had a good debate at CPAC. You can see the outlines of the debate in the party. I think it will be healthy. We've got a lot of tendencies, and it's the new leadership who will decide the ideological direction of the party.

But what the RNC has to actually be looking at is what its job is. And there it didn't succeed. It is outreach; it's the ground game; it's managing the financers; and it's also the social media where Democrats are way ahead.  Concretely it is establishing a calendar for the primaries that isn't destructive and trying, although here it doesn't have the power, to establish some limit on debates, because that 23 debates was a catastrophe for the Republicans last time around.

BAIER: Five of them were really well done.



KRAUTHAMMER: I would recommend striking 18 of them.

BAIER: Finally, Priebus says it's frustrating. He said today to be the party of the rich because the GOP wants to lift people from poverty.  He said, quote, "Our party can't just hire our way forward. It must inspire our way forward." I guess looking for that candidate is the challenge.

HAYES: But again, I think candidates there matter more than anything. You're talking about a different kind of message coming from, hypothetically, a Marco Rubio running for president than you are from Mitt Romney. Romney, for all the things that people like about Mitt Romney, very few people said Mitt Romney was an inspirational figure. It just wasn't what he was, it wasn't how he tried to sell himself. And I you'll have a different kind of message from a different -- Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, take your pick. Somebody like that is going to be much more inspirational than Mitt Romney was.

WILLIAMS: And I think their whole relationship to corporate America has got to shift. Romney's image was one of the rich guys, one of the stuffy guys. I think they have to get in touch with the idea that you can be critical of corporate America and also therefore relate better to Main Street America.

KRAUTHAMMER: We need a good candidate but you also have to have a party that knows how to run the mechanics. That is the job of the RNC.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for new effort at diplomacy with North Korea to try to diffuse some of those threats.

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