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. Brent

    Image is not the problem. The problem is that the party has been catering to its right-most wing for years.

    May 2, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  2. Streamwood Bill

    Some makeover.

    The same party that once revered Joe McCarthy and his tactics now worships Rush Limbaugh and his intolerance.

    So what has changed in the GOP?

    May 2, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  3. Swine Flu denier

    The people want Ron Paul. Just recycling the same vision will never work. Ron Paul supporters have taken over and they will not support the same top down crowd. The bottom up platform is the only way. The Ron Paul people are true conservatives.

    May 2, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  4. Pioneer

    The Republicans are in bigger trouble than a listening tour will fix.
    The people that have taken over the party are the Aryan biggots and the survivalists. They listen too, and agree with the sewer coming out of Limbaughs mouth. The ignorant woman that stood up at the McCain rally and said that Obama was a terrorist muslum and she was scared of him is what you are now attracting. You have been pandering to this ignorant element of the party, not really caring about their hate issues just telling them what they want to hear to get their vote. You are now in a free fall that is impossible to stop.
    If you need the Limbaugh crowd voting for you, to save the party, the Republicans of my parents party is over. As far as us the fiscal conservatives and all of the social moderates they will find a home even if it is a new party.
    To save the party you need to listen to Colin Powell and Megan McCain. Only they can save the party.

    May 2, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  5. Julie

    The first thing they can do is to tell Norm Coleman to take his defeat like a man and they can let Franken be seated. They are feeling the effects of 8 years of a president who got his seat through the Supreme Court. The person with the most votes did not win the presidency. Are they trying the same thing with Norm Coleman? So much for a shinier image.

    May 2, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  6. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    Step 1: Get rid of those who betrayed the traditional Republican small government and fiscally conservative philosophies by enormously ramping up the size and intrusiveness of government and increasing the size of the Federal debt to unprecedented proportions .

    Step 2: Get rid of those who betrayed the traditional Republican respect for individuals, and individual rights, by attempting to impose tenets of their religion on those who do not subscribe to their religion.

    May 2, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  7. Arlene, Roselle, Illinois

    Well if the new Republicans were meeting in a pizzeria then
    maybe they can get the Italian vote next.

    May 2, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  8. Ennis, LA

    Mitt Romney knows more about the economy than any potential
    GOP nominee. He certainly knew more than John McCain, who
    never saw the downturn in the economy until – – like the iceberg
    that hit the Titanic – – it was too late. This is how Romney beat
    McCain in the Michigan primary. Too bad the dumb GOP voters
    didn't take heed. They went with nostalgia rather than chose
    someone who ran a state and a business. Obama wants change
    but is afraid to go the distance, and so surrounds himself with
    Bill Clinton's spin doctors and shady cronies. The people still
    distrust big government, and that's all Obama and his cronies
    want. Types like Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano mean trouble
    ahead. They are idealogues, not uniters; and Obama will suffer
    the consequences.

    May 2, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. sick of the GOP

    Unfortunately, some of the big names in the Republican Party are the very ones that are very much out of touch with America. Cantor, McCain, Romney, ....people who seem too arrogant to 'listen'. I'll be surprised if there is any change coming from this group. Until the Republican Party is ready to help the 'ordinary' American, not just corporate America, they offer nothing. The reason they can't say 'yes' to anything President Obama brings forth is because they are mentally unable to move forward. They are stuck in the ways of the past....unable to embrace the fact that they are no longer the 'deciders'. Americans are smarter and more educated than in the past, and we want a share in deciding what happens here. We also want some rights (like AFFORDABLE health insurance) that other countries have had for a long time. We're tired of the Republicans stamping their feet and yelling 'No, no, no'....while they enjoy what is denied to so many of us.

    May 2, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  10. Patty in the CA mountains

    So they are going to meet to get their story straight so they can all go out into their respective districts and tell the same lies. Great idea.

    May 2, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  11. Danny

    Mitt Romney is the last person the GOP should trot out as an example of a 'new party'. He's as arrogant as Bush 44 .. not the kind of leader America needs.

    I hope the GOP keep trotting out Romney, Gingrich, and all the other loonies who, when in control, did exactly the opposite of what they touted and left America in really bad shape.

    Ronald Reagan was all smoke and mirrors. "Borrow and Spend". Between Reagan and the two Bushes, they account for 90% of our national debt. Just what did we get for that money? Nothing tangible I can see.

    May 2, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  12. Igor Bouttchenko

    Good campaign to reshape their party's image. Good to connect with voters.

    May 2, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    The GOP has marginalized itself into sheer irrelevance.

    May 2, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  14. sparky

    Anyone notice that Tina Fey, oh sorry, I mean Sarah Palin wasn't part of this 'event'....... Always lovin herself and self absorbing Sarah is one of the top 2 reasons the GOP is in deep, deep trouble. So long as Sarah, Rush and Sean 'I love money' Hannity try to speak for the GOP, I'd say they ain't got a chance of making inroads in 2010. Maybe it's time for the GOP to tell those 3 stooges to take a hike...

    May 2, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  15. Kari from HB

    Campaigning already for the next election. The Republicans know what went wrong, they are the party of exclusion. This is nothing but a publicity stunt. It's really sad that our country has come to nothing but two parties trying to be number 1 and to heck with the people. I hope in the next election those that don't want to work together find themselves gone. Democrats and Republicans alike, until those in office leave, this country will go nowhere.

    May 2, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  16. Proud to have Senator Specter

    Wow... That almost sounds like the Project for a New American Century... PNAC... A semi secret society that has world wide connections and asperations to overthrow various governments throught the world by force (war) if necessary, with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the George Bush thugs leading the charge..... What ever this new group is calling them selves, they, the GOP might color it in a different shade of yellow but it's still the same old GOP.. All lies and hate....

    May 2, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  17. Nate Daniels

    It's unfortunate that Jeb shares the Bush name, because he's one of the few who are making any sense. The Republican party is clearly divided into two groups. One that believes social issues come before responsible governance. And the other that still adheres to the traditional party roots of fiscal conservatism and limited government.

    The problem is thet the social conservatives are claiming to be traditional Republicans, but don't come even close to acting that way.

    The ones who are decrying government spending were the same ones voting Yes to the blank checks 6 months ago. America is watching.

    The ones voting against "socialism" were the ones ignoring it six months ago and then handing out vision statements as their current plan. America is watching.

    Sorry Mitt, but if the social conservatives pretending to be "Republicans" don't come up with a plan fast and act on it. And if that plan is not consistant with fiscal responsibility, limited government, and a constructive foreign policy. You're going to start seing more states turn blue.

    Never forget that 80% of America is moderate in their beliefs. And in the absense of real leadership, most people will follow the next closest thing. And right now, the Democrats are the only ones with a tangible plan and they are following through with it. And America is watching.

    May 2, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  18. Len

    Again, the facts are : housing, the economy, energy prices, etc. all started BEFORE President Obama took office.

    The Republicans will always be the same, a party with the same old ideas. I did not hear any new ideas. No alternatives on education, health care, controlling big business, controlling the insurance companies, improving the environment, improving foreign relations, etc.

    They only care about cutting taxes for BIG Business and Deregulation on everything. This policy started with President Reagan and was rampt up by President G. Bush. WE now know these policies do not work.

    May 2, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Romney, ROMNEY says, "We have an advantage... the GOP had [has] the option of drawing its strategy from the grassroots." Does he mean teabagging. Good grief, what a joke!!

    The genius goes on to say, "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."

    How about an adult, reasonable, cogent set of policy positions NOW to add to the geopolitical debate here and abroad that don't include general hate and fear, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and on and on!!

    What a sad state of affairs. We need a viable (at least) second party. What we have is a shrinking (Thank God) group of extremist, obstructionist buffoons.

    May 2, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  20. America Shrugged

    The GOP leadership should just put out an economic plan on how they envision to turn the economy around..I don't want to hear a bunch of the same old stuff, cut taxes. Cutting taxes in the last Adm didn't produce much but fast food jobs and more government jobs and more $ to the top 1%. To hear them complain about the Dems when the last election clearly spelled out what direction the american people wanted to go is nothing more than sour grapes. Just about every republican that is still holding office today during the Bush adm rubberstamped everything he wanted. Sure, they bellyached, but in the end, they gave him what they wanted. They bellyached to their constituents about Obama's stimulus package and budget, but in the end, they got in their pork and tax cuts, voted no, and will still get their pork and stimulus money. I guess they must think their supporters are pretty dumb not to figure it out.

    May 2, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  21. Michael

    Geez, these guys don't get it...........THEY are a BIG part of the problem!!! The first thing the Republican Party needs to do is dump the same old crop of angry,right-wing white men (and women) and develop moderate leaders that will pull the party of "No" and extremism back into the mainstream.

    May 2, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  22. RFK

    "...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."

    Sorry Mitt, this is one of the key reasons the GOP is in this mess. You cannot assume that everyone who disagrees with you is an enemy. I agree with Jeb Bush, you need to listen and learn.

    May 2, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  23. Allen

    Mitt Romney is the face of the republican party. Too bad he's also anchor weighing them down.

    May 2, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  24. T Mckinley

    If the Republicans really want to reshape thier party's image, they are going to have to start fighting for working people and stop fighting for corporate executives and their outrageous salaries.

    Having people like Mitt Romney as one of the GOP "poster boys," only strengthens the public's perception that the GOP is the party of the rich and affluent, and doesn't give a rat's behind about the poor and the middle class.

    Mitt Romney-The best President a CEO could ever have.

    May 2, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  25. jeffmn

    It seems to me that a majority of mainstream America thinks differently than you and has for the last two years. We already had the revolution, and it was handily won by people who think differently than you do.

    May 2, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
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