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Republican insiders plot post-election party overhaul

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Republican insiders opposed to Donald Trump have begun discussions to prepare a party overhaul. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican insiders opposed to Donald Trump have begun discussions to prepare a party overhaul whether its candidate wins the presidency or not.

They regard Trump as the symptom of a disease that afflicts the GOP and fear that emergency restructuring is needed to prevent massive losses among racial minorities that are a growing share of the electorate and have generally accelerated every presidential election cycle since 1992.

Those involved in the plotting sessions say the GOP leadership have lost or ceded control of the Republican brand to outsiders who don't understand or care about the principles for which it stands. Republicans' top priority, these insiders explain, should be to reclaim authority over their party.

"You have to have a culture change as a party. You have to be very comfortable being disliked by loud, disruptive, negative voices that have only one goal and that goal is to tear down the brand of the Republican Party," Josh Holmes said this week during an interview with the Washington Examiner's "Examining Politics" podcast.

Holmes is part of the new crop of influential Republican consultants who have the ear of top party leaders in Washington and are working on high-level initiatives. He previously served as chief of staff and top political advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

In interviews with several Republican strategists, some who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, many concerns about the future of the GOP were aired, as were suggestions for what it would take to right the ship.

But one consensus concern was the damage they believe conservative advocacy organizations and influential conservative media personalities have inflicted on the Republican Party.

Republican insiders explain that these two communities, whether motivated by profit or good intentions, have poisoned the party's image with the base by setting expectation too high to reach in an era of Democratic control of the White House, and until last year, the Senate.

Meanwhile, by using their influence to stymie pragmatic legislation that involved the basic responsibilities of governing required of Republicans since they won back the House in 2010, the kind of incremental progress sought by moderate GOP voters also failed to materialize.

"It's time for the conservative commentariat industry to be more responsible and focus on winning elections," said GOP strategist Brad Todd, who advises House and Senate candidates.

Recognizing the tough spot Republicans are in, in this regard, Todd added: "Nobody can make them do it. They have to decide that enacting their principles is more important than complaining about them. This isn't a thing that can be accomplished by fiat. It has to be willful."

If they don't, Republicans could find themselves saddled with the same problems for the foreseeable future.

"So long as some of the most powerful voices in conservative media spend more time attacking Republicans than Democrats, the Democrats will hold the White House," a Republican strategist who has advised multiple GOP presidential candidates said.

Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, a chief antagonist to Congressional Republicans leaders and their agenda, said the GOP is unfairly shifting the blame for its problems with voters.

The party, Holler said, should be looking inward instead.

"There's a deep-seeded frustration outside of Washington with Washington, and it's not because Washington is dysfunctional but because it's working for wrong people," he said. "Until the Republican Party grapples with that, they are part of problem."

In the House and Senate, Republicans have attempted to deal with their problems as they see them by picking sides in party primaries, to block poor candidates from winning their primaries and putting winnable races in jeopardy.

In 2010 and 2012, Republicans took a hands-off approach to their primaries, letting locals determine the candidate field and allowing the primary campaigns to play out naturally.

They were rewarded with flawed candidates in Nevada, Delaware, Missouri and Indiana that probably cost them a shot at winning the majority two to four years before they finally succeeding in doing so in 2014.

In that election cycle, McConnell and his lieutenants intervened in GOP primaries in Kansas, Mississippi and elsewhere to ensure that the most electable conservative (in their view) won the primary. They did this despite the blowback incurred from conservative groups and talk radio hosts.

It paid dividends. The GOP in 2014 won nine seats and control of the Senate for the first time since losing it in 2006. That change in strategy by McConnell was crucial, Holmes said.

"Party leaders have a responsibility to protect the brand; and to protect the brand in part means to ensure that the people who are carrying your flag are people that A) represent your party well and B) can win elections. And C) can do the job," he explained.

But the Republican National Committee, the party's national campaign committee, doesn't work the same as the NRSC, formerly the National Republican Senatorial Committee, directly responsible for Senate races, or the House GOP's National Republican Congressional Committee.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, and his predecessors and future successors, are hamstrung by party bylaws that prevent the party leadership from picking sides in presidential primaries.

That's why some Republican insiders, though not all, aren't blaming him for Trump, and aren't sure what they would recommend to Priebus or the next chairman to prevent future Trumps.

"I'm very sympathetic to Reince," said GOP strategist Doug Heye, an RNC veteran and former aide to Eric Cantor when he was the House Majority Leader. "How does the chairman of the national committee follow the rules and the bylaws of the committee and get rid of a Trump?"

Still, many Republicans believe that the RNC, supported by party leaders and activists, can and should do more to protect the party brand and control the presidential nominating process.

Some fault Priebus for abandoning elements of the Republican after action report conducted after Obama was re-elected in 2012 that called for the GOP to change its tone toward ethnic minorities.

This group of Republicans believes the chairman too willingly let Trump define the party before he wrapped up the nomination in early May by failing strongly reprimand him and clearly distancing the party from his coarse rhetoric.

Priebus also is criticized for giving a backseat to the party's principles and message to Trump once he became the presumptive nominee when he could have fought harder to protect the GOP brand.

Some hope that a third consecutive presidential loss, which many predict is coming, will motivate the GOP to stop doing the bidding of critics on the far right and develop the change in culture they believe is necessary for success in the 21st Century.

And, if Trump is elected?

"The party is still in a lot of trouble," said another GOP strategist who requested anonymity because he did not want to criticize the RNC or the nominee on the record. "He would be toxic even after a win. And the problem with that is that he will control [the RNC] and I don't think any clear thinking Republican believes that would be a good thing."