“The faces of the Republican Party’s most ambitious members are changing,” says the latest MSM mini-mashup of the GOP’s 2016 presidential hopes. In the same breath, after describing Republicans’ sweep of the midterms, comes the inevitable chaser:

The GOP’s success may be misleading, however.

I’ve watched the Republican machine during the past two presidential election cycles, and based on those observations, I’m not going to hold that one against the AP. One of our greatest talents as professional conservative politicians is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory—and we have enough second place trophies to prove it.

For more than a few reasons, though, 2016 could be different.

More from AP’s Big Story:

Long criticized as the party of old white men, the GOP’s next class of presidential contenders may include two Hispanic senators, an Indian-American governor, a female business leader and an African-American neurosurgeon. In a group that could exceed a dozen Republican White House prospects, all but a few are in their 40s or 50s, while one of the oldest white men is a fluent Spanish speaker whose wife is a native Mexican.

The diverse group is a point of pride for those Republicans who have long pushed for a welcoming “big tent” party.

“This is a diverse nation, and we need to be a diverse party,” said Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and only Republican woman openly weighing a 2016 bid. “That doesn’t mean we sacrifice our principles, but it means we need to look like and understand and empathize with the nation.”

Republican strategists hope that a more diverse slate of candidates will help appeal to a growing minority population that has given Democrats a decided advantage in the last two presidential contests.

I love the fact that we have candidates willing to get out there and use the “D-word.” And by “D” I mean “diversity,” which is going to be the magic word in 2016 not only as we discuss issues of race, gender, and economic status, but as we build strategies to reach and corner the market on blocs of voters who have never supported Republicans until now.

The problem with patting ourselves on the back for having younger, more diverse, more dynamic candidates is that having young, diverse, and dynamic candidates doesn’t automatically change how voters will view them in terms of their party. What should be appealing on paper will bomb at the polls if its packaged wrong.

As far as 2016 is concerned, it’s the packaging of our candidates that concerns me more than the candidates themselves. This year’s midterms were historic in terms of wins versus losses, but that never would have happened had it not been for candidates fundamentally changing the way they ask for votes.

In Texas, incumbent Senator John Cornyn literally made history by becoming the first statewide Republican candidate to ever carry the Hispanic vote—and he didn’t do it via wishful thinking. Senator Cornyn’s team used a microtargeted strategy to engage with new and diverse communities, build relationships, and explain why conservative policies lead to stronger economies and happier families. Texas Attorney General and Governor-Elect Greg Abbott used similar strategies to reach out to voters who tend to embrace conservative policies, but who hadn’t voted recently—sometimes in over a decade. Their political foils complained that the two men “looked like Republicans,” (as in, they are both older, white men,) but they won anyway because their campaigns made their outreach strategies less about the man, and more about how the man was working on behalf of everyone.

Truth bomb: making sure voters know that a candidate (and the candidate’s staff) cares about every community is more effective than flogging through messaging Napalm one demographic at a time—and this is where 2016 will be won or lost.

This rings true whether we eventually run a Marco Rubio or a Jeb Bush. People need to feel connected to a candidate; they need to feel like the candidate cares bout their lives and concerns, and this only happens when your strategy focuses 100% on voters as people. 100% agreement is impossible, but being willing to listen to problems before insisting that conservatism is common sense will do wonders for what many consider to be a damaged brand. Having a darker skin tone, or a more libertarian message, matters little if the packaging screams “EVERYTHING YOU’VE SEEN BEFORE AND NEVER WANTED!”

2016 is ours to lose—and we will lose it if we don’t take that point to heart.


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