Frustration over Republican presidential nominating rules could threaten whether a plan to revive the GOP takes hold among the party's most conservative activists.
Members of the Republican National Committee, meeting in Los Angeles this week, are already giving mixed reviews to a report that prescribes outreach to minority voters and softening the GOP's tone on hot-button issues.
But some conservative activists say lingering anger about rules aimed at streamlining the party's presidential nominating process take power away from the GOP grassroots national party leaders say they want to empower.
"We need to make a strong statement that this party isn't top down, it's bottom up," Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said during debate over rules changes.
Munisteri and others are upset about a rule, adopted at the party's national convention in Tampa last year, that requires national convention delegates to vote to nominate the candidate who wins their state's primary election or caucus.
In a partial victory for the rule's opponents, an RNC committee voted Wednesday to release states that hold caucuses from the rule. The full RNC is expected to vote on the change Friday.
"I would describe it as a victory for the party's grassroots," said the amendment's sponsor, Jeff Johnson of Minnesota.
The simmering rules quarrel comes as national committee Chairman Reince Priebus is trying to build support for a plan to attract more young, Latino, African American, Asian and gay voters to the party. These groups heavily backed President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
As with the rules conflict, the report issued by the RNC last month after 3 months of study, is viewed by some GOP activists as a dictate from party officials more concerned with winning than reinforcing the party's principles.
But former RNC committeeman from Michigan Saul Anuzis said both issues stem from anger over losing to Obama, whom Republicans viewed as vulnerable, and highlights tension between state-level party activists who preferred a more conservative nominee than Romney, and moderates who saw the former Massachusetts governor as a better match for Obama.
"I think that there's clearly a tremendous amount of frustration in the grassroots for losing," said Anuzis.
At issue with some RNC members is their perception that the report suggests softened positions on hot-button topics such as gay marriage and immigration.
"We've got to start somewhere — as long as we don't abandon the platform," said Alabama Republican Joan Reynolds.
Some Republican leaders have said the report would alienate the party's most devout members, and cost the party more votes than it gains.
Committee officials said Wednesday the RNC remains committed to its long-held positions in opposition to allowing immigrants in the country illegally to stay and opposing gay marriage. But Priebus' report, based on three months of work by a team of national party strategists, states starkly that the GOP has lost the ability to attract voters who disagree.
The meeting is a chance to convince them of that hard truth, party officials said. "This is the first time anyone is in one place able to talk through what's been said in the last month about the plan to move forward," said Kirsten Kukowski, RNC press secretary.