The Republican National Committee's analysis of why Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election was a wake-up call for the party. The 100-page document, which GOP leaders gloomily nicknamed the "autopsy," made a number of recommendations centered around welcoming different kinds of people into the Repbulican fold. Listen to minorities, show that the party cares about gays, talk to people who don't have the same perspectives—overall, create what the report heralded as "a party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us."
But it wasn't just new people that the analysis urged reaching out to. Religious communities, too, were on the Republican precipice, and the GOP was concerned about maintaining its connection to them. Near the end of the report, its authors offered a solution: Hire a "faith-based outreach director to focus on engaging faith-based organizations and communities with the Republican Party."
The RNC heeded the advice. But as the party tries to diversify its base while looking ahead to 2016, it risks taking for granted the religion-driven voters who have powered its previous successes by presupposing they'll never leave.
A few months after the report's release, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus got in touch with Chad Connelly, then the state party chairman in South Carolina. A Southern Baptist deacon and a Sunday school teacher, Connelly became the RNC's inaugural liaison to religious communities. It was a landmark step for the GOP, which has long been considered the default party for the deeply religious. It was also an undeniable sign of the times.