By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
REPUBLICANS RELEASE 2012 AUTOPSY: This morning the Republican National Committee unveiled its 2012 election "autopsy," which also charts a path forward for a party set back on its heels by Mitt Romney's defeat and other GOP losses last year. ABC's Shushannah Walshe notes that the 100-page "Growth and Opportunity Project" report focuses on an abbreviated presidential primary process with fewer debates; extensive outreach to minorities, including hiring paid outreach staffers in the states in a $10 million push that begins right away; and a better digital effort to try and catch up with Democrats. "When Republicans lost in November, it was a wakeup call. And in response I initiated the most public and most comprehensive post-election review in the history of any national party," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will say at a morning press conference in Washington, DC. "Last week, I received the Growth and Opportunity Project's report. As it makes clear, there's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren't inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement … So, there's no one solution: There's a long list of them." Read the report: http://bit.ly/WmFmWu
GOP CHAIR - 'NO MORE AUGUST CONVENTIONS': Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus yesterday previewed some of the tactical changes he feels the party must make, including holding the Party's convention earlier in the summer, notes ABC's Arlette Saenz. "I'm calling for a convention in June or July," Priebus said during an appearance on CBS News' "Face the Nation," arguing that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a "sitting duck" in the months leading up to the Republican National Convention in August. "We're going to set up a commission that's going to make that decision," he said. "I'm going to be a part of that, I'm going to chair that commission, but no more August conventions." Priebus also said he hopes to reduce the number of primary debates to a more reasonable number like "seven or eight" per election cycle. http://abcn.ws/WPVRQI
MITT ROMNEY'S MISTAKES: The GOP report makes a direct criticism of how the party's own presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, addressed Hispanics during the last election, notes Fusion's Jordan Fabian. "If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence," it reads. "It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies." The report echoes what many Hispanic leaders have said for years, that the GOP's "position on immigration has become a litmus test," one which they have failed in past elections. As a result, the RNC report endorsed comprehensive immigration reform, saying that it is in line with "Republican economic principles." http://abcn.ws/ZDqx4s
CABINET SHUFFLE: President Obama will announce that he is nominating Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez to be his next Secretary of Labor, ABC's Mary Bruce reports. According to a White House official: "Known throughout his career as a pragmatic leader and a consensus builder, Tom has served as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, since October 8, 2009. In that time, he has fought to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans. … Tom's commitment to preserving the American dream is rooted in his own life experience. The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, his father passed away when Tom was just 12 years old. Tom's parents taught him and his 4 siblings to work hard, aim high, and always give back to the community. "
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: No doubt about it, Rand Paul was CPAC's rock star. Although Paul, the GOP senator from Kentucky, might have won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend without his filibuster the previous week as a backdrop, it was certainly that 13-hour display on the Senate floor that won him not only the support but also the hearts of conservatives. During Paul's speech to the gathering on Thursday, the standing-room-only-crowd waved a sea of "I Stand with Rand" signs as he told them: "The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don't think we need to name any names here, do we?" Paul won one-quarter of the votes in the completely unscientific survey of nearly 3,000 conference-goers (Marco Rubio finished a close second), but it must have been a nice reward for the Kentucky Republican after fellow senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, dismissed his filibuster as "stunt." The other lesson of the straw poll: Conservatives are conflicted. The number three finisher was "Other/Write In," meaning that 14 percent of straw poll voters were all over the board when it came to who they see as their favorite 2016 GOP contender. Finally, don't forget, one big name wasn't even on the ballot: Jeb Bush.
ABC's Z. BYRON WOLF: Rand Paul won the CPAC straw poll. So what? His father won the CPAC straw poll in 2010 and 2011. That didn't help him win any presidential primaries or caucuses. That's not to say that one Paul equals the other. But their politics align in a lot of ways and while Rand Paul's filibuster won him acolytes on the right, his position on the issue of drones doesn't feel exactly mainstream. You could feel that tension when Marco Rubio, the runner up in the straw poll, gave a speech that was full of nationalist symbolism. It would be hard to imagine Rand Paul joining onto that platform. But it is still a lot easier to imagine a Rubio platform as one that makes it to a November election.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Sarah Palin lit up the room Saturday at CPAC getting the crowd off their feet several times in a way the other speakers - even the big names - just did not. She may have compared the president to Bernie Madoff, but she also went after Washington, DC Republicans telling them to "get over" themselves. Her barnburner of a speech wasn't just to remind her supporters, haters, and the media that she is still around, it was also meant to entertain the crowd rather than simply recite dull policy positions. Who but Sarah Palin could really say this about her husband, Todd, and his gun - "He's got the rifle, I got the rack" - and not only get away with it, but have everyone talking about it? Does this mean she will enter elected politics again? Probably not. But it's clear she wants to be part of the conversation as 2014 nears. Look for her to back like-minded conservatives, get on the campaign trail for them, and annoy Karl Rove and other establishment Republicans along the way. Of course, Democrats will say this only helps them. We'll see if they are right.
BUDGET BATTLE AHEAD. The Senate will attempt this coming week to stave off a government shutdown by working to pass a continuing resolution in order to keep the government funded, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. The continuing resolution, known in Washington shorthand as the CR, is a stopgap appropriations measure. Congress is up against a March 27 deadline this time around to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year through September. The CR passed in the House of Representatives last week but hit roadblocks this week in the Senate, stalled by amendments, battles over amendments and some senators objecting to not even having time to read the actual text. "To not allow us the time to assess what you have produced by being able to read and study the bill goes against the best traditions of the Senate," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said on the floor of the Senate this week. "Are we just to blindly say that we approve this bill because we have a deadline at the end of the month?" The Senate bill keeps the same spending levels as the House bill, setting the top-line overall rate of spending at $982 billion, down from $1.043 trillion the previous fiscal year, but adds three appropriations measures - for homeland security and the commerce; agriculture; and justice and science funds. http://abcn.ws/ZK7ZOz
-RAND PAUL PREVAILS. Rand Paul 2016? The Kentucky senator emerged as the potential 2016 presidential candidate preferred by the largest share of those who participated in a straw poll at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. Paul commanded 25 percent of straw poll voters, but another possible GOP contender, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, was close on his heels with 23 percent, according to the results of the survey announced this weekend. None of the other Republicans whose names appeared on the straw poll ballot managed to break double digits. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who tried but failed to win the Republican nomination in 2012, finished third with 8 percent of the vote. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was right behind Santorum with 7 percent, followed by last year's vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, at 6 percent. Paul's win comes a little over a week since his attention-getting, 13-hour filibuster of CIA director nominee John Brennan. And it was clear at the gathering this week that Paul was a crowd favorite. Here's a rundown of the top 2013 CPAC straw poll finishers: http://abcn.ws/WqSeQd
-MATTHEW DOWD ON CPAC: 'A BUNCH OF DINOSAURS.' "To me imagery and who is there and what you say is important. And I don't think divisions are a bad thing," ABC News Political Analyst Matthew Dowd said Sunday on "This Week." "I actually think that a conservative message that is built for the 21st century would be a good thing. CPAC to me reminds me of going to the 'Land Before Time.' And it's like going to a 'Flintstones' episode in my view. It's like a bunch of dinosaurs, most of them are like throwbacks in times. It's like who's running for Grand Poobah of the "Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes" is what it looks like to me. … I think CPAC's time has come and gone. And it's time for somebody to put together a 21st century conservative agenda." http://abcn.ws/1450qJf
-SARAH PALIN'S GREATEST HITS. Sarah Palin served up a generous helping of conservative red meat on Saturday, comparing President Obama to white-collar criminal Bernie Madoff, mocking New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his support of a jumbo soda ban and criticizing the GOP's post-election attempt at "putting a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party" rather than focusing on "restoring the trust of the American people." Palin delivered one of the most well-received speeches of a weekend that has featured such Republican luminaries as Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Pausing numerous times for standing ovations, she reserved particular vitriol for President Obama. "He is considered a good politician," the former vice presidential nominee said, referring to Obama, "which is like saying Bernie Madoff was a good salesmen. The difference being, the president is using our money." Palin also delivered a series of memorable one-liners:
On gun ownership: "You should have seen what Todd got me for Christmas. Well, It wasn't that exciting. It was a metal rack, case for hunting rifles to put on the back of a four-wheeler. Then though, I had to get something for him to put in the gun case, right. So, this go-around, he's got the rifle, I got the rack."
On Mayor Michael Bloomberg's large soda ban: Palin held up a Big Gulp, sipped from a straw and said, "Bloomberg is not around, our big gulps are safe. We're cool. Shoot, it's just pop with low-cal ice-cubes in it."
On the current state of politics in Washington: "We don't have leadership coming out of Washington, we have reality television."
On young conservatives: "My only piece of advice to our young college Republicans is you've got to be thinking Sam Adams, not drinking Sam Adams."
-TED CRUZ, PROUD TO BE A 'WACKO BIRD'. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he's willing to embrace the "wacko bird" label given to him by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., if it means he is defending the Constitution, reports ABC's Arlette Saenz. "If standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution makes you a wacko bird, then count me a proud wacko bird," Cruz said as he delivered the keynote address Saturday at CPAC. (In an interview with the Huffington Post earlier this month, McCain singled out Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., as "wacko birds" when asked whether he felt they are a "positive force" within the Republican Party). As he closed out the three-day conservative convention, Cruz took pride in joining Paul's 13-hour filibuster over the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the CIA, and without naming names, he criticized the senators who refrained from participating in the filibuster. "There were more than a few senators who were not there with us that have had their manhood cheapened as a result," Cruz said. http://abcn.ws/1304ZVR
-LOVE IN THE TIME OF CPAC. CPAC has launched hook-ups, dates and even marriages, but for some, the annual conference of like-minded conservatives - many of whom are college students and twenty-somethings - romance can be about as hard to find here as a copy of "The Audacity of Hope," notes ABC's Chris Good. "I came here to meet a nice conservative girl, but I think I'm only gonna meet crazy conservative girls," one lovelorn young man, wearing a red tie, remarked to his friend on the opening day of CPAC. The annual gathering is part serious stage for GOP stars who deliver big-time speeches, part expo for activist groups, and part networking confab for consultants and behind-the-scenes GOP power players, but it's also part party and flirtfest, well attended by young, college-aged conservatives from across America, who gather at happy hours every evening, decked out in suits and dresses, all staying in the same hotel. "There's a lot of hooking up that goes on," said one Republican strategist who met his future wife organizing a CPAC trip in his youth. Asked for the worst pickup lines they'd heard at the conference, several young CPAC women revealed exceptionally bad ones: http://abcn.ws/1324niv
-FIVE QUESTIONS FOR FOSTER FRIESS. ABC's Shushannah Walshe asked the same five questions to several conservatives conference-goers at CPAC. Here's Republican donor and philanthropist Foster Friess, the man who helped bankroll Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential bid:
ABC: Should Republicans Back Immigration Reform?
Foster Friess: I think the number one thing Republicans can get behind is one thing- guest worker permits. Forget about all the other issues, what you do with the people here and when you send them back. Everyone pretty well agrees if you catch someone at 6AM in the morning, you send them back at 9AM. Then the question becomes what if you catch them a year later or two years later so there's all kinds of dates as to where he would get sent back. So I think if you minimize those issues and talk on one single issue, like Clinton said 'it's the economy, stupid', if we get guest worker permits as the number one key issue that will drive the inclination of people to embrace our point of view, where the Democrats will oppose that very, very viciously.
ABC: Who will be the next president?
Foster Friess: Well that will be Rick Santorum for sure.
ABC: Why did Mitt Romney lose?
Foster Friess: I don't think he lost. He just didn't win.
ABC: The Tea Party Dead or Alive?
Foster Friess: The Tea Party is going to be very, very critical to our future as a country. It is going to be rejuvenated with a new surge of energy. I think the left's attempt to demonize the party has fallen away a bit, I like to tell a story, 'we're too old to be violent' and I believe the tea party will morph into Freedom Dinners where people will go to a country club or a high end restaurant and have a speaker come in and talk about the issues about how we get the state budgets squared away in terms of shifting from defined benefit to defined contribution plans, so it's not a big problem that builds up.
ABC: Who's the Democrat you would least like to go up against in 2016?
Foster Friess: I think Hillary Clinton is going to be pretty tough. But Michelle Obama wouldn't that be tough? I think the Democrats are so clever. And they know how to communicate, they communicate to the emotions and the heart. Republicans tend to the brain and intellect until we learn their skill set we are going to be at a disadvantage.
More "Five Questions" with Gregg Keller. Executive Director of the American Conservative Union; Steve Bannon, Executive chairman of Breitbart News Network; Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director, Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles; Tom Intorocio, Former Santorum aide, author of blog "Who Said? You Said.com"; and John Horvat, Author of "Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society - Where We've Been, How We Got There and Where We Need To Go." http://abcn.ws/13XKQPf
BOEHNER: THE 'TALK ABOUT RAISING REVENUE IS OVER' House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told ABC News' Martha Raddatz during an exclusive interview for "This Week" that talk of including revenue as part of an effort to strike a so-called "grand bargain" to address the $16 trillion debt of the United States was "over," leaving Democrats and Republicans where they have been for months - at loggerheads. "The president believes that we have to have more taxes from the American people. We're not going to get very far," Boehner said. "The president got his tax hikes on January 1. The talk about raising revenue is over. It's time to deal with the spending problem." Boehner said the United States does not face an immediate debt problem, agreeing with recent comments by President Obama - but he added debt is an issue that will have to be addressed. "We do not have an immediate debt crisis - but we all know that we have one looming," he said. "And we have one looming because we have entitlement programs that are not sustainable in their current form. They're going to go bankrupt." http://abcn.ws/ZKde0H
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: FOREIGN POLICY HAS BECOME 'MUCH HARDER' After a roundtable appearance on "This Week," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joined Martha Raddatz for an ABC News web exclusive. Albright discussed her career, gave advice for the current Secretary of State John Kerry, and talked about how U.S. foreign policy has changed since she served in the Clinton administration. "I think that in many ways it's gotten much harder because we have this evolution of what we call 'non-state actors.' Various, obviously, terrorist groups that roam around. It's very hard to figure out what tools to use against them. And lack of faith, frankly, in the various international institutions that exist. It's uncharted waters in many ways." WATCH are more of Albright's responses to viewer questions from Facebook and Twitter: http://abcn.ws/115Umzn
POLL: IRAQ RE-EXAMINED. Ten years after U.S. airstrikes on Baghdad punctuated the start of the Iraq war, nearly six in 10 Americans say the war was not worth fighting - a judgment shared by majorities steadily since initial success gave way to years of continued conflict, notes ABC News Pollster Gary Langer. Nearly as many in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll say the same about the war in Afghanistan. And while criticisms of both wars are down from their peaks, the intensity of sentiment remains high, with strong critics far outweighing strong supporters. A key reason: A substantial sense that neither war did much to achieve their goals of enhancing U.S. security. Only about half of Americans say either war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, and just two in 10 say either contributed "a great deal" to U.S. security - clearly insufficient, in the minds of most, to justify their costs in lives and lucre. More poll results: http://abcn.ws/15TUrVH
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS JOE BIDEN? Vice President Joe Biden has a busy day in Rome, notes ABC's Mary Bruce. This morning, he met with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and the Prime Minister. Later he meets separately with the president of Poland and Serbia.
@NKingofDC: RNC chairman says the GOP autopsy is the most comprehensive of any party in history.