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. Peter

    The party of NO philosophy is doomed, you can't move forward when all what you do is spill out hate through hannity and limbaugh. Fox is a liability to the GOP instead of making the party popular the news media shoves out young voters!! who have no priveleges to preserve.

    May 2, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  2. JC

    Rs down have the strength to even slow down Obama, who can basically just steamroll them whenever he likes now. They have no exciting leader, just a bunch of retreads, and no new ideas, just tired old-think ideology. Worse of all, NO ONE is listening to them, since Obama seems to be making progress, and Rs are rightfully taking heaps of blame for the messes their neocons made of the US and our Constitution. The Rs only real hope is that Obama royally screws something up, which so far he hasn't shown any sign of doing. The best Rs have come up with is that stupid NYC flyby, an episode everyone has (rightfully) concluded is basically meaningless.

    May 2, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  3. Keith Johnson

    Republicans don't need more PR spin. They need ideas.

    For instance, if you are for smaller government, then tell us exactly what you plan on cutting. Talking about earmark reform or pork (which accounts for a sliver of a fraction of the overall budget) isn't an answer. Just how exactly do you plan on cutting back the major expenditures in the Federal budget, such as Medicare & Medicaid (23% of budget), Social Security (21% of budget), or Defense (21% of budget)? Apparently cutting the amount the defense budget increases from 15% to 4% is apparently too draconian for the Republicans. How do you plan on convincing the elderly or poor that they should vote for you after slashing Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid?

    Until you can convince the American people that they need to receive drastically less services from the federal government (ie, the "you are on your own" theory of government), then you have to face the reality that these programs aren't vanishing.

    I mean, why do you think McCain kept talking about earmarks during the '08 campaign, rather than talking about a coherant vision for what a smaller government would really look like for the millions of citizens in this country.

    May 2, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  4. IndyVoter

    What was that saying that was so popular during the campaign about putting lipstick on farm animals? Or bulldogs?

    Hmmm. The best thing the GOP can do to improve its image is STOP trying to WIN Seats in 2010 and actually be productive with some new ideas or at least not obstructing other people's ideas to help Americans move forward. Sometimes you don't have to SAY anything. Your action will tell us all we need to know.

    May 2, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  5. notKeith

    "..the group's Web site and YouTube video did not mention... any of the hot-button issues vital to the social conservatives that form a significant part of the party's base."

    There, in a nutshell, is THE problem. A "significant part" of the GOP's base believe, essentially, that the earth is flat.

    As such, the GOP Schwinn™ bicycle, in order to pass muster with the flat-earthers, also must have flat tires, or they'll picket.

    Good luck with that, GOP.

    May 2, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  6. La Chatte

    The recycling of the same ol' losers just goes to emphasize how very desperate the Repugs are. They got trounced it the last two elections ('06 and '08), so the solution they've come up with is to offer up the same-old-same-old. As if if two Bushes weren't enough, they turn to Jeb???? W's popularity (if one can call it that) is even lower than it was when he and the Rethugs finally got run out of Washington at the behest of an enormous majority. These are the same jerks who thought they could put any female on their ballot and win an election. They are also the same fools who thought they could appeal to a wider base my electing any black man to the chairmanship of the RNC in spite of the fact that he's just an opportunist like Miss Wasilla '82. Then there's still the omnipresence of Rush and Ann Coulter...

    Frankly, I hope they keep this up! Certainly they're digging a very, very deep hole that, with a little bit of luck, they will be unable to dig themselves out of.

    I'm an unaffiliated voter, so I'm not particularly enamored with the Dum's either, but I can hardly wait until Al Franken is seated right next to Arlen Specter on the floor of the United States Senate, thus rendering the Repugs utterly irrelevant!

    May 2, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. Xavier

    Wow! The new GOP is the same old GOP. Funny how those who cater to the rich (GOP) see themselves as revolutionaries, and view those who support programs to help the poor (Democrats) as being part of a monarch. The GOP will never get its act together so long as its nose remains firmly stuck in the rich guys rear.

    May 2, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  8. Ryan Wing

    I think after 8 years of Bush the American people showed they are smarter than rebranding the same ideas with a different face when they elected Obama instead of Palin\McCain.

    The Republicans need to feature a more civil form of leadership in Washington that is about more than opposition before people really start to see them differently.

    May 2, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  9. I used to like CNN but not anymore!

    Mitt Romney is not going to get it done for the Republicans! In fact, he's the living breathing definition of what a rich, elitest, religious wacko is which is exactly the problem with the GOP! WOW! Are these guy's that stupid or what?

    May 2, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  10. Big Ed

    Nothing but a complete overhaul of leadership and a 21st century vision will do anything to help these out of touch, angry, bitter old exclusionists!

    Good luck! You will need loads of it!

    May 2, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  11. Simmy

    National Council for a New America.....What's wrong with the current America? .....Haley Barbour, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Bobby Jindal are the members of this council....What about the leader of the RNC, Michael Steele....Where is he? Isn't he the 'new' face of your 'New America?' Republicans outside protesting? "There are no limits to the posturing......

    May 2, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  12. Lori

    Hmmm. How to reshape the GOP's image? This is a tough one. For one, Hispanic voters are aware that 99% of GOP politicans and voters are anti-Hispanic/anti-illegal workers. Secondly, younger voters are turned off by the homophobic, racist, pro-guns, and I-don't-want-any-girl-to-have- an-abortion-but -I -don't -want -spend-tax-dollars-on-welfare- programs rhetoric nor are they impressed by the fear mongering. Thirdly, ethnic minorities are turned off by the 'terrorist', and 'show me your birth certificate Obama' nonsense. And fourthly, women are disgusted by the GOP too. Good luck reshaping the GOP.

    May 2, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  13. Change

    Well, after reading this, I'd say the GOP is still clueless about how exceptional President Obama really is and how outstanding his campaign apparatus STILL IS.

    The GOP cannot move forward with the Social Conservative Albatross hanging around its neck. The Gun Lobby, the Religious Right, Rush Limbaugh's leadership, goofy FOX News, hate radio, a base composed of hillbillies, goat ropers, crackers, rednecks and Texans, anti-immigration, anti-regulation, anti-healthcare reform, anti-reproductive rights, anti-equality, and on and on and on. What a load of dead weight! The GOP just keeps shooting itself in the foot.

    The GOP needs to face reality and start planning for 2028.

    May 2, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  14. Steve Lyons

    Both parties have morphed into parties of themselves. No longer are they implementing policy decisions for the good of the country, but they implement programs and policies designed to keep them in office and themselves in power. No wonder the country despises them both. I am unabashedly claiming that neither party represents the majority of taxpayers in this country. But both certainly pander to the voting majority that are on the dole. A pox on both their houses.

    May 2, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  15. The Unshrub

    Shouldn't they wait until next week to change their image again. They have already changed their image this week.

    May 2, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  16. Donna from Colorado Springs

    Romney is an idiot! Nothing is going to change in the Republican party unless they ease up on the core values of walking in lock step with whomever is in control of the party at the moment! Unless they loosen up and not be so rigid, nothing will ever change. The party has been the same forever and I don't see anything different happening. They has the country frightened for eight years with their terrorism claims and heavy handed religious indoctrination, and finally the country woke up to the fact that they were wrong for the country! They were thrown out and shown that we will not be under their control anymore. That is their problem.........the need to control what people say and think in every aspact of their lives.

    May 2, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  17. Ben in Oil City Pa.

    Of The three prominent GOP leaders statements in thisTicker story only Jeb Bush's had any truth in which he says that "It's time for us to listen a little bit, learn a little bit." No you guys really need to shut up and learn a lot more about this counrty that you wish to lead.
    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," The fly in that ointment is that GWB was not elected by this crowd, but by coronation to POTUS by hook and by crook by this crowd, and 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."
    No Eric the reality is your party is out due to election results which are in fact the reflection of the mainstream of this country.
    This GOP leadership is like a bunch substance abusers who won't admit they have an issue with the substance, and unless or until they do admit the reality of the world in which they placed us in they will wander in the wilderness and die.

    May 2, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  18. Beth

    Ha! Good luck with that. I think the damage has already been done, and it'll take an act of God to make the GOP better. Good thing they're all such diehard Christians. (excuse me while I laugh)

    May 2, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  19. Sorensen

    Mr. Romney should be selling sun-tan creme. Well researched-
    of course – by Bain.

    May 2, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  20. republicanturneddemocrat

    Oh there is a good idea.... MORE of the SAME Washington Republicans trying to reshape their image when they are the same people who tarnished it!

    The GOP had better wake up quick, before it's too late. Using the same old, dried out, exhausted old men are NOT what that party needs.

    What the GOP really needs is a triage! They need a COMPLETELY whole new agenda and if they don't realize this, they WILL BE A MARGINALIZED party, NO doubt about it!

    May 2, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  21. Mitchel Ahern

    Mitt thinks the party of give-aways to the rich, the party of unlimited inheritance of unlimited unearned wealth, the party of George Bush XXXXI and George Bush XXXXIII can point at the other party and with a straight face call "Monarchists!"

    Hilarious *and* delusional.

    May 2, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  22. tony

    tHE gop IS sO oUT oF tOUCH wITh tHE rEAL wORLD!

    The Republicans lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than they lost the battle for educated votes, marching into the election armed with nothing more than slogans. Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantánamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be water-boarding. Ha ha. During the primary debates, three out of ten Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution.

    The Republican Party’s divorce from the intelligentsia has been a while in the making. The born-again Mr Bush preferred listening to his “heart” rather than his “head”. He also filled the government with incompetent toadies like Michael “heck-of-a-job” Brown, who bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. Mr McCain, once the chattering classes’ favourite Republican, refused to grapple with the intricacies of the financial meltdown, preferring instead to look for cartoonish villains. And in a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket, a woman who took five years to get a degree in journalism, and who was apparently unaware of some of the most rudimentary facts about international politics.

    Republicanism’s anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future. The party’s electoral success from 1980 onwards was driven by its ability to link brains with brawn. The conservative intelligentsia not only helped to craft a message that resonated with working-class Democrats, a message that emphasised entrepreneurialism, law and order, and American pride. It also provided the party with a sweeping policy agenda. The party’s loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda.

    This is happening at a time when the American population is becoming more educated. More than a quarter of Americans now have university degrees. Twenty per cent of households earn more than $100,000 a year, up from 16% in 1996. Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster, notes that 69% call themselves “professionals”. McKinsey, a management consultancy, argues that the number of jobs requiring “tacit” intellectual skills has increased three times as fast as employment in general. The Republican Party’s current “redneck strategy” will leave it appealing to a shrinking and backward-looking portion of the electorate.

    Why is this happening? One reason is that conservative brawn has lost patience with brains of all kinds, conservative or liberal. Many conservatives—particularly lower-income ones—are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders. They take their opinions from talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the deeply unsubtle Sean Hannity. And they regard Mrs Palin’s apparent ignorance not as a problem but as a badge of honour.

    Another reason is the degeneracy of the conservative intelligentsia itself, a modern-day version of the 1970s liberals it arose to do battle with: trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes, ruled by dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changed world. The movement has little to say about today’s pressing problems, such as global warming and the debacle in Iraq, and expends too much of its energy on xenophobia, homophobia and opposing stem-cell research.

    Conservative intellectuals are also engaged in their own version of what Julian Benda dubbed la trahison des clercs, the treason of the learned. They have fallen into constructing cartoon images of “real Americans”, with their “volkish” wisdom and charming habit of dropping their “g”s. Mrs Palin was invented as a national political force by Beltway journalists from the Weekly Standard and the National Review who met her when they were on luxury cruises around Alaska, and then noisily championed her cause.

    May 2, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  23. redneck in nyc

    moot romney says democrats are the party of monarchists?! after 8 years of W the most obvious and damaging example of nepotism in our country's history. i thought irony was forbidden to mormons

    May 2, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  24. dace

    Oh yes mister cult member super rich hair product sales man 5.0, and yet another bush? And don't forget the "new" grand wizard cantor form the hate filled new confederacy. Oh yes they are really going to give a new direction – scam 20000000000.0 for the liars of the GOP that are the same old ones that destroyed our country. And don't forget mr the economy is fine that brought the terror of snow billy and joe the liar upon us all. Your past manipulations of a name change with a new round of fear mongering and tax breaks for the rich won't work.

    May 2, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  25. Republicans are the American Taliban

    While you're at it Mr Romney why don't you help Charley Manson improve his image also.... should be just as easy.

    May 2, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
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