The Republicans get it. Or at least the members of the Republican National Committee team that produced the 100-page "Growth & Opportunity Project" do. The first quarter of the analysis, described in press reports as an "autopsy" of the party's failings in 2012, is devoted to the demographic tidal wave on the horizon. (The rest is largely concerned with campaign and political tactics.)
"America Looks Different" is the chapter head on Page 9. And the news bulletin, if a few years tardy, at least is not sugar-coated. "The nation's demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become," the report states.
"Urgency" and "precarious" connote a level of panic commensurate with the circumstances. Indeed, the authors are sufficiently vexed to resurrect a role model of the distant past -- a certain George W. Something -- who managed to get elected on a conservative platform without chasing away Hispanics, blacks and Asians in the process. (Bush received more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.)
What makes this report different from the usual Republican head-scratching about all those nonwhite people who suddenly seem to be voting and whatnot are conclusions like this: "We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform." In other words, "We're not here to tell you how to vote, but if you don't support comprehensive immigration reform, we'll see you at the party's funeral."
The report then proceeds to a section on "Demographic Partners," stating: "The pervasive mentality of writing off blocks of states or demographic votes for the Republican Party must be completely forgotten."
As best they can, the authors plot a strategy for recruiting minority campaign operatives, candidates and spokespeople. Women and youth are also on the party's target list. That's necessary, of course. But it's also the relatively easy part. The difficult work will be changing attitudes among the Republican base, where racism and homophobia have rarely been challenged and very often indulged, and where offensive comments about women have become an exotic specialty. All those years of Republican candidates dog whistling at Bob Jones University and genuflecting before the Stars and Bars will not be easily erased. And as the annual fiasco known as the Conservative Political Action Conference demonstrated last week, some white conservatives are not terribly eager to jump on the multi-culti bandwagon.
The process of Republican renewal will take time. But as self-indictments go, the new report has the astringent quality the task requires. Party strategists recognize that demographics and politics are linked; Republicans cannot compete if Democrats continue to capture a combined 80 percent of the black, Hispanic and Asian vote. Putting that in writing is an important acknowledgement. Next, someone is going to have to explain to the base that the virtual Confederacy, so durable and so wily for so very long, is the guest that has overstayed its welcome.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)