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. scott

    I mean come on. Youve got Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney trying to help the Republican party get out of this mess. This is a joke. These are the same people that followed the Bush administration right down to the end of the GOP. We need new Republicans with good fresh ideas and not the same old jokes, these guys put on. Americans is smarter than this. Long live true Republicans.

    May 2, 2009 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  2. Squigman

    How out of touch can they be. The economy went to the septic tank under the republican parties watch. The republican(s), fawn over, and court the rich in the nation, while turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the workers. They talk of tax cuts, while the prices of everyday essentials rise to heights not seen before, and never look att he damage done to the consumer, only the money re-generated to the rich. They dont see price increases as a form of taxation Remember 4.00 dollar plus per gallon gas. Talk about tax increases.

    May 2, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  3. Snowball

    Reshaping the party's image...I dunno about that. Leopards don't usually change their spots.

    Sounds like Romney was out in the sun too long. I doubt many people will agree with him that the Republicans are the revolutionaries. Sounds a bit like self-aggrandizement.

    May 2, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  4. Obamanation

    Ask me again next year.

    May 2, 2009 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  5. Thomas

    The problem is that the GOP truly feels that their current platform is the right one but that the issue is that the people just "don't understand it" or that the GOP just as an image problem.

    Until the GOP recognizes that they need to change their platform to appeal to the 21st century citizen, all they will be doing is, to use a common phrase, putting lipstick on a pig.

    May 2, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  6. mr bilek

    It seems to me, the Republican rebranding effort will begin to succeed when they quit lying (about Obama, taxes, Wall Street/Banking deregulation, trade, torture, patriotism, National Security, health care reform...) and start cooperating to solve the nation's very serious problems, none of which started with W (well maybe torture did, as did lying about Iraqi WMDs, and warrantless wiretapping...), and join Obama in getting our government focussed on solving problems instead of whining about them.

    May 2, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  7. Matt

    Did Jeb display any of his famous humor? Like when he declared, in a public, official meeting of Florida's cabinet, that San Francisco being destroyed by wildfires would be a "good thing for the country?" Or when he told allies and lobbyists at a formal dinner, with many reporters in attendance, that he had some "devious plans" if the citizens of Florida dared to gather enough signatures to place a referendum he didn't support on the ballot? If you thought W was bad, Jeb is exponentially worse – he has no qualms about putting his party before his constituents, and there's nothing he loves more than trampling the civil rights of those he disagrees with. Just ask Terri Schiavo's family...

    May 2, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. KR

    Where is Sara Palin; since your party thinks that she is so outstanding. Your party placed itself in the position that it is in; from day one you have tried to destroy everything this President has attempted to do but you offer no better solutions. You have been such sore losers that it is now pathetic to constantly observe all this. WISE UP.

    May 2, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  9. Rob

    The Republican attitude sucks, they act like there are the only chosen ones to lead. Their myopic perspective is the first thing that the needs to be thrown out if they want to start making any progress. Don’t try to make the other side look so scary, after it was your party who treated torturing as if it was nothing. The best advice I can give republicans is to practice being more humble.

    May 2, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  10. Keith in Austin

    The resolve of the GOP and the true conviction of most Americans favoring SMALLER government will secure their prominence again in 2010

    May 2, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  11. Terri New Orleans

    It will NEVER happen ...... The REPUBLICANS lived in a world of hate and devisive politics, they never cared for anyone but themselves and pushed the POOR and HELPLESS to the side, this is what is known as KARMA all of the HATE they put out for 8 years....... and it destroyed them......... Thank GOD

    May 2, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  12. Cheryl

    Romney expects people to believe Republicans are the party of revolutionary progressive ideas and the Democrats represent the entrenched establishment? Good luck with that. Next he'll be saying the Republicans are the party of inclusion and the Dems are a bunch of old white rich men.

    May 2, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  13. S M R

    You can sugar coat the outside, but we all know that the inside is still rotten. The fact is that your party will never win the White House again ,the one / two punch of Bush / Cheney made sure of that. Our great Country can't withstand another crooked Republican in power. Obama 2012 , Clinton 2016 and 2020. 🙂

    May 2, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  14. Ray

    Let's face it, the Republican party is in the midst of a power struggle between moderates who would like to see a party for all the people and conservatives who would like to anchor the party at the far right and drive off anyone who doesn't think, talk, dress or look like they do.

    The GOP is the party of NO: NO to equal rights; NO to equal opportunity; NO to equal pay for women and minorities; NO to saving the environment; NO to preventing businesses from cheating the poor; NO to supporting the American economy and the average American; NO to thinking for yourself. As long as they remain this party of NO, then I will say NO to the GOP in the voting booth. They will not get another vote from me as long as this bunch of hypocrites are around.

    As far as I'm concerned, the social conservatives can have the Republican party. It's time for average Americans to form a third party that represents the middle class and let the right wing sit alone in the corner and sulk.

    Also, please quit trying to pass this movement off as a grass roots affair. It is being created and manipulated by the GOP organization and is no more grass roots than the Super Bowl half-time show.

    May 2, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  15. Nancy

    No only have they become the party of NO- they are the party with NO leaders. If this is the best they can come up with it is said. Romney got it wrong-GOP were the monarchists that just lost the war to the revolutionaries. They lost because their base is becoming smaller everyday. The Democrats figured out a way to appeal to many diverse groups. The GOP is a one-note party at this moment-sad to see.

    May 2, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  16. Fred

    The GOP cheated their way to winning the 2000 election and lied about the war in Iraq. Who's stupid enough to trust them now? Their so called "real" American standards are actually un-American and farthest from the founding father's principles. I hope the Libertarians rise to the opening. The ignorant GOP intolerance is simply unbearable for modern America.

    May 2, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  17. ME IN FL

    Is this the best that the Republican Party has???? It is laughable, these are the same people that are voting NO to everything that this administration proposes without offering any solutions to problems!! This is the party that brought us to the worst economic mess that we are in, They should all drop out from politics!!! Glad to be a DEM!

    May 2, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  18. Denise

    I thought god Mormons did not indulge in illegal drug usage?/? The Dems are more like the Revoltionist, they stand for the common man. The GOP have always looked after the "haves." Talk about reversing roles

    May 2, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  19. our party has taken its licks

    how about instead of an American Revolution you just try to be more human

    May 2, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  20. Hey BIG Spender

    I am not even sure what a Republican is anymore. That's the problem. Which party (really) supports the constitution, believes that we should finally get around to immigration reform and stays out of the lives of Americans as much as possible? I'm with them.

    May 2, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  21. Erik in Real Pennsylvania

    The GOP should just disband. Let true conservatives join the Libertarian Party and let the rest of the ex-Republicans retreat to the "Leave-it-to-Beaver" neverland they've created in their intolerant fearmongering delusions.

    May 2, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  22. mariel

    I just can't image a 'party' or town hall meeting with Cantor, Romney, and Bush would enthuse anybody. The GOP will never get it – They are obsolete and irrelevant.

    May 2, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  23. Jonathan

    If the Republicans had proved in the first SIX years of this decade when they had total power, that they actually CARED about this country and it's people and the people of the world at large, the WORLD and the US would be much, much better, SAFER, happier place.

    May 2, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  24. Goverment is your Daddy

    When Cap and Trade [Energy Tax] comes even more people will wake up.......

    Big Goverment

    Higher Taxes

    Heads will turn

    GOP 2010-2012

    May 2, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  25. kd

    Romney is nothing but empty words. He flip-flops like nobody else.

    It's clear that the three at this meeting (Cantor, Bush, Romney) all have presidential aspirations. Don't trust any of 'em.

    May 2, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7