Republican National Committee report blunt in its call for new direction

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WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders Monday offered a harsh and sweeping self-critique of a party they said was in an "ideological cul-de-sac" and needed better outreach and a new brand of conservatism to appeal to younger voters, ethnic minorities and women.

But the call for change in preparation for the 2016 presidential election faces a Republican establishment in Washington that has so far shown little interest in altering its political trajectory in the party's continuing battles with President Barack Obama and Democrats.

In a sign of that reluctance to change, the 100-page assessment immediately drew fire from conservative activists and pundits, who derided it as a retreat from fundamental principles. Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh accused Republicans of being "totally bamboozled" and lacking in confidence.

The report, conducted by the Republican National Committee after the 2012 election defeat, is searing in its bluntness. Still, one of the main solutions it offered was new logistics rather than new policies: It called for fewer presidential debates and a shortened primary season, with the Republican National Convention to be held sometime before its traditional date in August or September.

The party's stated goal with a shortened political calendar is to settle on a presidential nominee sooner in the process, which would allow the candidate earlier access to general election funds. But Tea Party members said Monday that the abbreviated calendar was an attempt by the Republican National Committee to tamp down debate.

The document also urges all members of the party to "smartly change course" in what appears to be, in part, a marketing campaign to persuade voters that Republicans are not narrow-minded and out of touch. The report says the "federal wing" of the party, unlike the nation's Republican governors, is increasingly marginalizing itself.

"We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people," the report says. "But devastatingly, we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue."

Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, responded with one word: "Ouch." But he added, "The last thing Republicans should become is Democrat Lite." He said his party needs to better articulate what it is in favor of, "without ever retreating from our principles."

The report acknowledges a new willingness to overhaul the nation's immigration system, saying the alternative is a party whose appeal "continues to shrink to its core constituencies only." Already, Republicans are working with Democrats on legislation that many in the party believe will be crucial to attracting the support of Hispanics and other minorities in future elections. But on other issues -- taxes, gun control, same-sex marriage and health care -- the report is largely mute.

Overall, Tea Party activists reacted with dismay to the report.

"Americans and those in the Tea Party movement don't need an 'autopsy' report from RNC to know they failed to promote our principles, and lost because of it," Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said in a statement.

Party leader, including House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, praised the report, saying the logistical changes it proposes will be critical in the next presidential election.

In releasing the report, RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced Monday that the RNC would invest $10 million to bring on new staff to help appeal to young, female and minority voters. They will be charged with delivering an "aggressive marketing campaign" among those demographic groups about "what it means to be a Republican."

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