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What Happens to the GOP’s Diversity Dream?

Republicans have to repair divisions exacerbated by the ‘birther in chief’

Union workers cheer during a canvassing kickoff rally with Nevada Democratic candidates in Las Vegas on Monday. Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric has set back the GOP's efforts to reach various minority groups, writes Mary C. Curtis. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Union workers cheer during a canvassing kickoff rally with Nevada Democratic candidates in Las Vegas on Monday. Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric has set back the GOP's efforts to reach various minority groups, writes Mary C. Curtis. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After the presidential election of 2012, the Republican Party had a plan. Mitt Romney won over a majority of white voters, but failed miserably at attracting the diverse electorate that increasingly is America. GOP would have to stand for something other than Grand Old Party. The Growth and Opportunity Project was born, with one goal being outreach.

As then Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said in stark terms at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C., in January 2013: “We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior. … The first step in getting voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.”

The goals were lofty and judged doable, with Mississippi national committeeman Henry Barbour saying the message should be “the opportunity for people to aspire to reach their dreams whatever that may be.” He touted New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez as the party’s future: “She’s smart; she’s not afraid.”

What happened in 2016? The short answer: Donald Trump. From the start of his campaign, the rule-breaker’s rhetoric has angered Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans, women, the disabled and others. And Governor Martinez? Before an eventual truce, Trump criticized her in a visit to her home state, saying she’s “not doing the job.”

His campaign behavior has been the loud embodiment of Republican leadership’s missteps, reaching back to a deliberate Southern strategy in the 1960′s, appealing to opponents of civil rights progress.

Win or lose, to find success in the future, both parties will have to take part in a sincere, inclusive conversation. While Hillary Clinton and Democrats have their own challenges maintaining and strengthening the Obama coalition, Republicans have to repair divisions exacerbated by the “birther in chief.”

Time to rip up that Growth and Opportunity Project report and start from scratch.

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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