Republicans get into the permanent campaign business

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

LOS ANGELES—Since the early days of President Barack Obama's first term, Republicans have disparaged him for engaging in a "permanent campaign," saying he is placing his own personal interests ahead of the nation's. But after Obama won re-election with more than 300 electoral college votes, GOP leaders are starting to think that he might actually be on to something.

Republican National Committee members huddled for a strategy session here last week, where they broke ground on their own rebranding effort, one that will continue whether it's an election year or not.

Earlier this year, the RNC released a detailed report called The Growth & Opportunity Project that outlined the party's failures in last year's national election and offered 219 recommendations to reform the way the party operates. In March, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus unveiled a plan based on the report that includes overhauling the Republican Party's digital operations and spending $10 million in 2013 alone—an incredible investment in an off-election year—on a nationwide effort to embed hundreds of paid party organizers in states and neighborhoods currently considered unfriendly to Republicans to coordinate outreach programs.

Some might even call this "a permanent campaign."

"I think that's what you have to have to be successful," RNC Co-chair Sharon Day told Yahoo News in a recent interview about the GOP's new plan. "That's what we saw with Obama. He never stopped campaigning. And that's the reality. We know and we've learned that we have to stop doing two-year cycles and one-year election cycles, and try to grow a strong foundation for our party."

At the meeting in Hollywood, party activists from around the country hashed out the details for implementing many of the plan's ideas in their own states. During strategy sessions at the Loew's Hollywood Hotel, state-based GOP activists sat in on crash sessions about the party's big data-sharing program, new fundraising techniques and old-fashioned convention planning. On Thursday, they attended breakout sessions on minority outreach, where they got training from Hispanic, black and Asian media specialists on how to present the Republican message to minority communities.

It's not a short-term strategy. Interviews with several RNC members suggested that they have no expectations they'll convince, say, urban blacks, into becoming hardcore Republicans any time soon. Or even any year soon. But they know that they need to try.

"This isn't a one-year project," Henry Barbour, an RNC committee member from Mississippi who co-authored the GOP report, told Yahoo News. "It's not even a project we're going to finish in 2016. This is a long-term thing that the party has to tackle."

Even the location of the meeting, for example, was no accident. Holding a major Republican get-together in one of the most liberal enclaves in the country is a symbolic part of that same offensive meant to encourage conservatives to spend time in territory they might consider hostile.

But let's be honest: The location had its perks. The hotel hosting the gathering was just steps from the star-studded Hollywood Walk of Fame, which allowed for plenty of only-in-Hollyweird moments.

Party members got a taste of movie magic their very first night in Tinseltown, when the new blockbuster sci-fi flick "Oblivion" premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre next to the hotel. Unable to resist the opportunity to catch a glimpse of its stars, Tom Cruise and (Obama super PAC mega-donor) Morgan Freeman, some ditched the night's GOP reception to stake out a place near the red carpet.

On Friday, during a dinner at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, RNC members rubbed shoulders with actress Stacey Dash beneath Reagan's Air Force One jet. (For Republicans, Dash is a triple threat: She's a Hollywood actress, an African American and a conservative. Go ahead, try to name another one.)

Whey they returned to Hollywood after the Reagan Library dinner, a high-speech car chase culminated directly in front of the RNC members' hotel. The sound of a low-flying police helicopter filled the night air while a floodlight flashed onto the streets below. Officers on the ground surrounded the car with their guns drawn and arrested the driver while RNC members watched from across the street and snapped photos.

Later that night in Burbank, RNC members were singing karaoke in a bar when actor Dennis Haskins—you know him as "Mr. Belding" from the '90s show "Saved by the Bell"—walked through the door. After he sang on stage and posed for pictures, an RNC guest implored Haskins to recite his television catchphrase for the group. Displaying perhaps the least enthusiasm a human being has ever devoted to completing a sentence out loud, Haskins complied.

"Hey, hey, hey," he said in a sad monotone, "what's going on here?"