WASHINGTON -- The Republican Party is in turmoil, confused about its future and disliked by huge numbers of voters.
Not only did Republicans lose a presidential election theyd long regarded as winnable, the party lost seats in Congress as well as support among women, blacks and Hispanics. And it wound up perceived as a home for some of Americas most doctrinaire and incendiary some would say intolerant politicians.
Thats the landscape that confronts the Grand Old Party as the Republican National Committee gathers this week in Charlotte, N.C., for the first time since the November election.
The formal part of the Wednesday-Friday session is expected to go smoothly, as Chairman Reince Priebus is likely to win re-election despite a challenge from Maine National Committeeman Mark Willis.
The nuts-and-bolts types who make up the committee like Priebus, whos credited with improving fundraising and grass-roots organizing.
Hes made sure we have the means to be competitive, said New Hampshire Republican Chairman Wayne MacDonald. Its just hard when youre up against an incumbent president with a billion dollars in the bank.
The real drama will be the introspection, as the people who run the party try to figure out how to remove the stains of 2012. It wont be easy.
Theyre going to discuss findings of the Growth and Opportunity Project, headed by a group of party VIPs Priebus tapped after the election to study long-term strategy in eight areas, including the partys ground game, message, fundraising and lessons learned from Democratic tactics.
Republican troubles, though, go beyond Novembers losses. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll last week found that 49 percent had a negative view of the party.
Weve allowed ourselves to be tagged as elitist and out of touch, said former party Chairman Michael Steele. Youve got to be willing to talk to people who dont look like you.
Willis is basing his challenge on what he calls a failure to listen to grass-roots voters. For instance, he said, we want serious spending cuts, not token cuts. But we feel like theyre shutting our voice out.
The party is also sharply split into distinct camps.
The divide is not only ideological but cultural, the Romney elitists versus the tea party Republicans, said Craig Shirley, an author and conservative activist.
Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, but the conservatives who dominate the party never warmed to his patrician ways or forgot his centrist history. He then stirred an uproar with his post-election assertion that President Barack Obama had provided gifts to black, Hispanic and young voters.
The tea party also has become a burden in some circles. The grass-roots movement that exploded in 2010 and helped elected dozens of Republicans to Congress seemed to fade last year, hurt by candidates who proved too extreme to win among diverse constituencies.
Party stalwarts are convinced that Republicans can bounce back quickly. They still maintain the biggest House of Representatives majority since World War II, and last Novembers win in North Carolina gave the party control of 30 governors offices.
Theyre convinced that issues will trend their way, particularly as the national debate focuses on fiscal issues and guns.