May 2nd, 2009
01:48 PM ET
12 years ago

Top Republicans kick off campaign to reshape their party's image

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says Republicans must lead the American Revolution."]

ARLINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -  Three prominent GOP leaders kicked off a campaign Saturday to reshape their party's image, gathering at a restaurant in Northern Virginia for the first of a series of town hall meetings.

The goal of the initiative, called the National Council for a New America, is to connect Republican leaders with voters across the country to help get the party's electoral fortunes back on track.

"Certainly our party has taken its licks the last few cycles, but that's why we're here," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. "The reality is the prescriptions coming out of Washington right now are not reflective of the mainstream of this country."

"It's time for us to listen a little bit, learn a little bit," said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who advised Republicans to work on the party's message and "not be so nostalgic."

"I would say you can't beat something with nothing. The other side has something. I don't like it, but they have it," said Bush, who repeatedly praised President Obama's tactical approach to politics, and commended his 2008 campaign as "forward-looking."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney compared the GOP to Americans fighting the British during the Revolutionary War. "We are the party of the revolutionaries, they [Democrats] are the party of the monarchists," he told the overwhelmingly Republican crowd, saying the Republicans needed to "once again lead the American Revolution."

He blamed Washington for setting in motion policies that led to the collapse of the housing market, and painted his party's current minority status as a boon.

"We have an advantage," said the former Republican presidential candidate. "When a party has the White House, communication comes [from the] top down, and there's a strategy that everyone has to march behind." Instead, he said, the GOP had the option of drawing its strategy from the grassroots.

"We don't have to come up with all the answers today. Thank goodness, we have a little time," he said. "Certainly by 2010, we better."

The venue - a packed pizzeria in an Arlington strip mall - had the feel of a small-town campaign stop Saturday morning, with a supportive crowd tossing friendly questions at the panel. But outside the front doors of the establishment were twin reminders of the challenges facing the party.

The parking lot out front, even with the heavily Republican crowd inside, was dotted with Obama bumper stickers. Northern Virginia has shifted solidly Democratic in recent elections, and surrogates for John McCain's campaign made a series of statements late in the race that acknowledged the party had all but conceded the area.

But the handful of peaceful protesters out front weren't Democrats - they were conservatives upset over the new group's agenda and leadership. They brandished signs criticizing McCain, calling the NCNA "RINOs" - Republicans in
Name Only - and urging them to push for stricter immigration enforcement.

McCain is prominently featured in materials for the new group.

Health care, education and small business growth were all major topics of discussion Saturday - but immigration was one entry on a long list of potentially divisive social issues that went unmentioned.

Cantor told journalists that the group was not avoiding any topic, although the group's Web site and YouTube video released did not mention abortion, same-sex marriage, or any of the hot-button issues vital to the social conservatives that form a
significant part of the party's base.

"Any topic will be included in the national dialogue," he said. "There are no limits."

Filed under: Eric Cantor • Jeb Bush • Mitt Romney • Republican Party
soundoff (174 Responses)
  1. gary davis

    this man needs to go back to temple square in salt lake and rethink his church issues . so tired of the religious and republican eight years of fear and war mongering Mitt should step out of the public servant job and stay in the private sector as his church schooled him in learning business.

    your party needs more than rethinking it needs to die off . it only took eight years to screw the country .

    May 2, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  2. Keith

    I'm amazed at how short sighted and reactionary our politics have become. The republican party has problems that are a function of the political cycle we happen to be in right now. There will be a Republican in the white house ,they will control one of the two bodies of congress within a decade.So let the democrats have there day in the sun and remember that nothing in life or politics is permanent.

    May 2, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  3. Bob Parden

    We appear to be on a relentless track to socialism. The government has become a free ride to an increasing number of people–including autos and the banks! It isn't clear that the GOP and a conservative posture can ever regain status.

    May 2, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  4. scott

    Look who is leading this campaign. These are the same people that supported the failed policies of the Bush administration and the same ones that is voting against progressive action on how to get us out of this economy mess the past administration had gotten us into. We Americans need new Republicans that will stand for Americans and not for corporate greed, gas prices that breaks hard working people and poor oversight on insurance companies and large corporations. Fellow Americans, we can vote these people out of office and place true Republicans in our government stand for us and not believe in lie after lie after lie.

    May 2, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  5. Ron

    From the article it seems like the "leaders" did most of the talking. So, who was listening? I guess it was the "overwhelmingly Republican crowd." Sounds more like preaching to the choir than dialog.

    May 2, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  6. Armando Villarreal

    Council for a NEW America?! I think it's funny that only 4 months into a Democratic president and congress, that the Republicans are calling for a revolution and a NEW America!! Do they realize they F'd up the current one?! It's like Madoff suing the Federal Government for uncovering his crimes!!!! Yea, makes no sense. Then again, Republican stands for Hypocrate. (and no, I'm an Independent)

    May 2, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  7. Franky

    You know, they don't have the big problems as they like to think, for starters, wasn't it 3+ years ago they were still voting for Bush?? I mean, it may sound like a long time but you know what's a long time? Almost 8 years...

    They don't have it tough, they make it tough for themselves and come on, they go in taking some questions and Conservatives are out waiting, I think the problem is(and I'm going to use an old-school analogy) that so many tribes now roam, it ain't one single group or the other. Let alone they have no leader or someone to be on message and be consistent. You need someone like that, not people shouting out of order...

    I don't know but I think they are just freaking out, you know? Just surprised how far this went, they gotta relax, and people watch, is on T.V or in the news, just take it slow. Like I said, it was about 3+ years ago that things were know, there's that say that goes that experience is the name you give to your mistakes, right? Then I wonder what you call experience when things are happy and proud?? You tell me GOP, you tell me...

    May 2, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  8. Martin

    I can't believe the Republicans are kicking off their rebranding effort with anybody named "Bush" as one of the leaders. Let's face, it W helped destroy the republicans. If I were in the top of the republican party I wouldn't even let any named "Bush" in it.

    May 2, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  9. John Starnes Tampa Florida

    If the Republican Party had a coherent positive vision for America instead of having spent the last eight years sabotaging this country to enhance their own agendas (conquer Iraq, enrich Halliburton and the oil companies, expand government intrusion into personal life) they would not now be pursueing this tragically shallow, transparent effort to "rebrand" themselves. What are they, laundry detergent or a philosophy?

    May 2, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  10. andrea

    yeah, good luck with that. like you guys have any clue what main stream america needs or want. you all are soooo clueless.

    May 2, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  11. Oma

    Gov. Romney, what "revolutionaries" as I see it you are the party of pleasing the Evangelical fringe, and thereby became equally intolerant of diverse views. Fix that, and you will have your party back.

    May 2, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  12. js -----santee

    The problem is that you can't change your shirts on Saturday and rub elbows with your underlings and then on Monday put your suits back on and be a party of exclusion. I am amazed by their ability to believe that Americans are so stupid that they think that all they have to do is dress down to connect. Ah shuks folks...were just one of you.

    May 2, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  13. RB

    Eric Cantor – the man who has led the partisan Republican fight against ALL of Obama's proposals, thereby totally ignoring America's mandate for change.

    Jeb Bush – the fraudulent liar who was responsible for stealing the election from Al Gore (not to mention, a member of the family guilty of perpetrating the greatest war crimes since Hitler).

    Mitt Romney – the perennial flip-flopper who can't make up his mind about anything from abortion rights to gun control.

    THESE people are going to change the Republican party? They are so far removed from the pulse of America, there is absolutely NO CHANCE that they will bring about any kind of change whatsoever. I can hardley stop laughing.

    May 2, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  14. brad

    "Romney compared the GOP to Americans fighting the British during the Revolutionary War. "We are the party of the revolutionaries". Please. You got to be kidding me.

    May 2, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  15. JonDie

    "Three prominent GOP leaders kicked off a campaign Saturday to reshape their party's image..."

    Republicans have NOTHING to offer except a new "image", i.e., it's the same old crap repackaged over and over again.

    Fortunately for the Republicans, at least once every couple of elections, half of the American electorate isn't smart or educated enough to figure this out.

    May 2, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  16. Charlie in Maine

    Their image is not the problem. A goat dressed is silk is still a goat. Or as my friend James Carvilee likes to say: Politics is like a circus, and the worst job is cleaning up after the elephants.

    The Democrats have the best ideas- so now that Obama is taking charge of the image they look good. The fact that these horrible ideas from the GOP goat any traction at all is a testament to the communicative power of Ronald Reagan, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. The GOP's problem is that 2 of these three have passed away and th other should be up on charges.

    May 2, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  17. Jimmy McTimmy

    Wow. Mitt Romney has incredible delusions of grandeur. For a millionaire who is part of a political family to claim that the democrats are the monarchists, it's just flabbergasting. Both sides of the aisle politically have had their 'dynasties' so nobody gets any pass on that front, but the party of the rich, white men needs more than an 'image' makeover. They need to come up with some actual ideas and let their actions speak for them. So tired of this whole GOP melodrama. You reap what you sow, simple as that. Now start sowing some better seeds, guys, instead of looking for some better packaging on the same old seeds.

    May 2, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  18. Melissa

    Totally meaningless because they still don't get it.

    May 2, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  19. NRUS

    Republicans/Super Al Queda lead America into near dissolution and now they are talking about American revolution. 8 years of continuous distruction isn't enough for them. Leave America alone for next 16 years to recover.

    May 2, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  20. Joe Burton

    Let's see. Mitt couldn't win the nomination. Jeb couldn't get elected dog catcher thanks to his brother and Eric is a lame duck. This is the leadership? Where were Rush and Sarah? The Republican story is so sad....unless you're a DEMOCRAT! Then it is the funniest show on TV.

    May 2, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  21. Liberal and Proud of It dot com

    This is a typical CEO/College of Business type response. Your party has bankrupted the nation, outsourced our jobs, taken away our benefits, can't remember the concept of the 8 hour day or the 40 hour week, lowered our real wages, imported poisonous toys for our children and poisonous building materials for our homes, run up the national debt during prosperous years when we should have been paying it down (as the promised they would), deregulated corporations so they could destroy our economy, invaded a country for no reason that anyone can think of, passed the Patriot Act, imprisoned people in dungeons and tortured them in defiance of treaties that great men like Harry Truman helped write, and made "America" a word spoken of in contempt by our former allies. Many of them have gone to prison for taking bribes. Others barely escaped prison by hiring expensive lawyers to get them off on technicalities.

    Now they say they have an image problem. They are going to show us commercials filled with waving flags, Ronald Reagan, and tap-dancing Conservatives singing about the "shining city on the hill."

    Poor Lincoln. Poor Teddy Roosevelt. Poor Eisenhower. What have they done to your party?

    May 2, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  22. IS IT 2012 YET ??

    Mitt Romney – REAL Economic Recovery

    May 2, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  23. James

    The Republican Party is run by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who view The United States of America as their’s to own. Now, the government of moderates is described, by them, as outside forces. Gov Mitt Romney parallels the Republican “insurrection” to the American Revolution. Moderates are decribed as evil outsiders who will destroy their way of life.

    There is no inclusion into the Republican Party; its their way or no way at all.

    May 2, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  24. Thomas

    I wonder what they mean by "New America" and what they think of the one they live in now?! If these people want a revolution they must detail their grievances and propose effective changes. Social conservatives are the type of people I do not wish to run any country. They have proven themselves to be the kind that not only tolerate hate, fear, and suspicion, but have learned how to manipulate the public by using such devices; I offer their correlation between the new flu and immigrants as an example. Speaking of which, how do they intend to treat the people whom they do not appreciate? And who exactly are these people? Do they intend to go after people they deem "liberal" and how will they handle the witch-hunt that will surely follow? No, I want a society open to all- not this "New America" they invision.

    May 2, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  25. Don from Maine

    The GOP needs all of the help it can get-no leadership, no vision, Constant bickering amongst itself and 8 years of useless, reckless, greed have given the Republicans a bad image. Not to mention idiots like Rush Limbaugh who are an embarrasment to anyones party. Its definitely time to put some of the old GOP leaders out to pasture and infuse it with some new forward thinking blood. Otherwise as the saying goes you can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig. It will be interesting to see the new face of the Republican party if they can stop bickering long enough to select someone with vision to lead them. good luck.

    May 2, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
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