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Rebuilding the GOP: Can Republicans pitch a bigger tent?

The party must come to grips with the 'demographic realities' reshaping the US electorate and devise new strategies for connecting with growing populations of minorities, single women, and youth.

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Citing the roughly 51 percent to 49 percent split in popular vote, Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak says Mitt Romney's loss was not a repudiation of conservative ideals, but a cautionary tale about superior Democratic campaigning.

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"Conservatives don't feel like conservatism lost. Conservatives feel like they nominated another establishment, moderate nominee and came up short," he says.

'Demographic realities'

That line of reasoning is self-destructive, says John Hudak, an analyst in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"People who think it was Mitt Romney's fault that Republicans lost and not the Republican brand don't have a full grip on demographic realities," Mr. Hudak says. "If they don't settle on the idea that they have a demographic problem, they will be demographically barred from controlling the White House."

While many factors undoubtedly played a part in the GOP's thrashing in the election, it's difficult to deny the party's "pathetic job of reaching out to people of color," as former Governor Huckabee told Fox News.

Consider the numbers: The president won Latinos 71 percent to 27 percent, Asians 73 percent to 26 percent, gays and lesbians 77 percent to 23 percent, and blacks 93 percent to 6 percent. Single women gave 68 percent of their vote to Mr. Obama and voters under age 30 gave him 60 percent of their vote. All are growing sectors of the electorate.

There was one area where Mr. Romney trumped Obama: He won the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent. That's the best a GOP nominee has done among whites since 1988. But that's the one sector of the electorate that is shrinking.

"The GOP's on the wrong side of history, in a demographic sense," says Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University. "We're becoming much more a minority nation."

To remain viable, then, the GOP must become more of a "minority party."

Changing the party

With projections predicting that Latinos will make up 30 percent of the population by 2050, Republicans' first order of business is courting the Latino vote. "If we don't do better with Hispanics, we'll be out of the White House forever," says Republican strategist Ana Navarro.

That means immigration reform.

"It's very simple," says Mr. O'Connell, chairman of the Civic Forum PAC in Washington. "We've got to take control of immigration reform."

Republicans can look to rising stars like Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Senator Rubio of Florida for leadership on reform, including a better system to admit temporary workers and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – an ongoing point of contention in the party. Amnesty should be an option "if we can come up with a plan to secure the border," O'Connell adds.

Another leader the GOP can turn to for guidance? George W. Bush, who won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, Hudak says.

"Oddly, their path to success with Latinos is to do what George W. Bush did. They have to ask themselves, 'What would George do?' "

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