The post-game analysis over November's election continues, but as Republicans reflect on their electoral losses, a common consensus has emerged on the right: the GOP, if it is to stay relevant and competitive in the coming years, has to broaden its demographic appeal.
In the the days following the election, as strategists unpacked the cause of Mitt Romney's presidential demise, exit poll data offered some early insight into what went wrong: Romney, despite winning among white voters in all age groups, had dismal showings in almost every minority group. He lost the Latino vote to Obama 71 percent to 27 percent. His numbers were worse among Asian-Americans, who voted for the president 73 percent to 26 percent. And, as the GOP had anticipated, it was no contest among African-Americans, 93 percent of whom voted to re-elect Mr. Obama.
On the morning of November 7, Republicans were already calling for change: Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union, told Politico that the GOP "needs to realize that it's too old and too white and too male and it needs to figure out how to catch up with the demographics of the country before it's too late."
More recently, Republican pollster Whit Ayres released a memo warning the GOP that it had "run out of persuadable white voters," and that "To be competitive nationally in the future, Republicans must do better among non-white Americans."
"There are a whole lot of smart Republicans who realize we've got to go in a new direction," Ayres told CBSNews.com.
Even as they tout newfound resolve to overhaul their outreach methodology and appeal to new voters, however, some question whether the party is willing to embrace the substantive change necessary to bring their goals to fruition.
A new direction?
In light of the party's recent losses -- Republicans lost seats in the House and Senate as well as in the presidency -- the GOP says it's committed to learning from the mistakes of the last cycle. The RNC recently launched a five-person committee aimed at evaluating the committee's work leading up to the 2012 election, and RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer insisted the committee is committed to taking actionable steps that will help reverse some of the recent demographic trends.
"We're looking at everything," Spicer told CBSNews.com. He says each member of the five-person team - which comprises RNC committee member Henry Barbour, Jeb Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw, former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, Puerto Rico RNC committee member Zori Fonalledas, and South Carolina RNC member Glenn McCall - will take the lead on a certain issue and do extensive outreach to discern how to be more effective in the future. They'll look primarily at how to attract new voters going forward, and related questions of messaging, mechanics, get out the vote efforts, via conference calls, one-on-one discussion, and formal meetings.
"The goal obviously is to grow the party and win elections," Spicer said.
A big part of that equation has to do with increasing support among Latino voters. Not only did the overwhelming support of Hispanic voters help deliver Mr. Obama his re-election this year, but as the fastest-growing population in the U.S., Latinos will be an increasingly crucial voting bloc going forward. Romney is believed to have been badly damaged among Latinos by his harsh rhetoric on immigration reform during the primaries - one of his suggestions included "self-deportation" - as well as the party's generally unsympathetic tone on the subject.
In recent years, according to Ayres, Republicans "persuaded themselves that they could use very harsh language about undocumented Hispanics without offending those who are here legally, but that was very misguided." In his report, "The Hispanic Challenge and Opportunity for Republicans," he argues that fixing the nation's immigration system is just one of the many measures the party will have to adopt in order to make serious inroads into the community.
It's clear that lawmakers are getting the message: Many congressional Republicans have already softened their tone with regard to immigration, and Republican members of both the House and the Senate put forth immigration-related bills within just weeks of the election.
"A great many Republicans already have the right tone: People like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio promote conservative policies of limited government in a way that is very welcoming to new people who might not have been Republicans in the past," Ayres said. "So it's not like we don't have examples out there."
Talk vs. action
Despite the recent display of inclusiveness, it's unclear how far the GOP is willing to go on a policy level to make way for new members, and some wonder how fast change can feasibly come to a party that's dominated by elderly white men.
Immigration reform activists point out that neither of the recent GOP immigration bills - the STEM Jobs Act in the House and the ACHIEVE Act in the Senate - included a path to citizenship, which many see as imperative for their support. Ayres argues that it would be difficult to get a comprehensive bill through Congress, and that Democrats, who seek an overhaul to the nation's immigration system, "are in real danger of making the perfect the enemy of the good." He says the Republican Party can improve its standing among Latinos even without a bill that includes a path to citizenship.
Many immigration activists, however, cite the path to citizenship as a legislative imperative, and dismiss the recent GOP efforts as meaningless posturing.
"I think it would be very difficult for the community to see a bill that does not include a path to citizenship as a fix to the broken immigration system. I don't see how they could possibly sell that and expect support from the community," Arturo Vargas, executive director of the nonpartisan NALEO Educational Fund, told CBS News. "It's absolutely critical that we find a way of making sure that these 11 million [undocumented] individuals are able to achieve some kind of normalcy in their lives - that they can work and become full participants in this society."
"Actions speak louder than words," he added. "The actions that Republican leadership takes up in their next Congress, I think, will say a great deal to Latino voters about how well they understand their priorities."
The Latino community is not the only one from which the GOP could benefit having some new recruits: According to demographer William Frey, fast-growing, traditionally Republican states like Georgia, North Carolina and Texas are at risk of becoming swing states in the future if the GOP doesn't make some inroads among African-Americans as well as Hispanics and if Democrats can continue to grow their appeal to white voters there. And Asian-Americans are a small but fast-growing part of the American population that is bound to have increased influence in the ocming years.
The party also has ground to make up among middle- and working-class voters.
The GOP's legislative priorities in the next Congress remain to be seen, but so far there is little evidence that the leadership itself will look much different from in years past: Among those tapped to chair the 21 House committees, which set legislative agenda and priorities in respective issue areas, there is one woman and one man of Lebanese descent.
J.C. Watts, a former congressman and prominent black Republican, questions the RNC's apparent continued support of party chairman Reince Priebus, who is running for a second term, as evidence that Republicans are "continuing to grade our own test."
"We got our heads handed to us. We were wrong on every single front," Watts said, of the 2012 election. "I'm no expert at serving on corporate boards, but I know that if any pastor, or any head football coach, or any CEO, would have delivered the results that we delivered on November 6, that person would not be around on November 10th."
Watts has floated the idea of a bid to challenge Priebus, though he says he's "not naive enough to think the solution is to put a black face over at the RNC and think that's going to be the solution." But, he said, "I think this last election kind of sent a clarion call, that said, hello, Republicans, you're still not getting it."
Watts has argued vociferously in recent years that the GOP needs to invest time and money into African-American outreach, and was harshly critical of Priebus' efforts in that arena in the most recent election.
"It's perplexing to me how we think we're going to do better in national elections if we're not trying to establish deeper relationships with non-traditional constituents," he said. "Every single Republican ought to be concerned about what happened in national elections in 2008 and 2012. We can't hold the RNC harmless."
The path forward
To many Republicans, the path to future success - and a more diverse party -- will require the party to cultivate and promote new leaders, policies, and attitudes.
"It's new policies, new candidates, and a new tone," Ayres said. What exactly that looks like, he says, "we're in the process of working out." But he acknowledges that a part of the process will require shaking off some of the negative connotations of the past election - including "an image that says, if you don't look like us, we don't want you as part of our party."
For starters, according to Watts, the party needs to work with community leaders to build trust among urban, working-class and non-traditional GOP constituents.
"What do we say to the African-American small business owner or the female small business owner? What do we say to the small business owner who doesn't have a quarter of a million dollars? What do we say to the single mom with two jobs who doesn't want to go on government assistance? It seems as though we think that because we are conservative we have to abandon humanity," he said. "We don't have to abandon our humanity to be conservative."