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. Mark

    The GOP has become the party of "No" and cannot win future elections while placating their base with negative, anti-immigrant, xenophobic messages. They have become the party of yesterday and the Dems are the party of tomorrow.

    May 2, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  2. sprkl12000

    Did they pay for the pizza and drinks to get people there? Was this a free event or did folks have to purchase tickets?Are they planning to go to inner cities to talk with those voters? You know, the ones they have overlooked in the past or are they just going to stay in affluent areas?

    And a piece of advice...leave anyone named Bush at home...saying Jeb is smarter than George really isn't saying much....

    May 2, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  3. Spring

    Until they apologize to American People of lies and illegal wars!!

    May 2, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  4. Lynn

    CNN: Why is it that all of John King's blogs are always closed with few comments?

    Obviously you people can't take the criticism of this GOP backer's so called "State of the Union (the most boring four hours on television)!!

    Just a case of dishing it out but not being able to take it???

    May 2, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  5. Jay

    The party of no plans,no ideas, and only criticism is waking up after all these years.

    May 2, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  6. Thanh

    Romney needs to review his history again. The progressive agenda has always belonged to revolutionaries. Conservatives are more like the monarchy. Look at the kind of special absolute power Bush wielded. He treated the Oval Office like a throne. The power he was given wasn't even enough for him and he was always looking to expand it.

    The GOP hardliners are getting desperate. They fear of becoming just a regional party.

    May 2, 2009 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  7. virginia nielsen

    It's going to take a looong time for the Republicans recup !!! With this 50's behavior they are going no place !!! We are in the 21 century and for now and on, with Obama being a progressive president (energy,enviroment etc) I don,t see any regressive Republican in power for the next 20 years !!!

    May 2, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  8. Ray R.

    The Republican Party is on the road to extinction.

    May 2, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  9. Jerzjen

    Not one of these people is a fresh face. They tried to introduce Jindal to America.......we all know how that went......embarrassing!!! Now their own base is protesting against them. They want to listen to the American people........sure they do. They thought McCain and his crack-pot running mate were going to win. When they woke up from that fantasy they learned that not only were they going to lose, but they were losing in what used to be Republican areas. Show some guts you pansies. Obama has held town meetings and press conferences in Republican districts, and he still packs them in. These losers don't have those kinds of guts! These meetings aren't meant to make the party seem inclusive. These meetings are the Republicans trying to win over their own people. Sad!!!

    May 2, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  10. GuyinIA

    I used to be democrat, now am independent. I believe our elected officials should represent and protect it's people over their party. Both parties are guilty of this (Pelosi, Reid, Richardson and Steele, Rush, Laura).

    Democrats are obviously ahead but we do need checks and balances. The Republicans need to get a message, the right message if they are to survive. To do that, they need to drop their extreme right hardcore views to move forward. Meghan McCain I feel is right and good for her to speak out for her party (one that needs to represent the people in these times).

    May 2, 2009 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  11. An Ex-Republican

    Until the Republicans distance themselves from Rush Limbaugh, and the divisive rhetoric of the Sarah Palin Campagne rallys, they will never regain control of the government....

    The philosophy of tearing down political opponents and name calling doesn't address the problems of our country....

    Further adding to the image of Republicans is this modest attempt to act as if the past administration has nothing to do with the current economic problems that we face today, makes Republicans appear to not MERIT TRUST...

    Republicans need to start by purging Rush Limbaugh, this is a number one priority for Republican Survival, they have to do something to combat the image of Rush Limbaugh being a PROMINENT LEADER....

    Sarah Palin's pick as VP obviously bought John McCains campagne to a new low, well Rush Limbaugh is having the same effect on the Republican party......

    May 2, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  12. Mac Reynolds

    CNN, here are your followers. A huge pack of liberals and NOTHING else. I couldn't find one conservative voice in the whole crowd of comments.

    It reminds me of the MSM, a bubble of like-minded people telling each other how great they are. Completely devoid of substance.

    Open your eyes and your ears, the country is heading down a dangerous path that won't be easy to return from. If you really are "liberal," how about thinking about your "liberties" for once?? Our government has grown out of control, and we are drowning in debt. Good for Romney for pointing it out.

    May 2, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  13. kmk

    they (repugs) are delusional and a bunch of idiots........the party of toddlers who just say "no" . they got us to where we are today......a recession heading to a depression, two wars and a third on the way (Pakistan), health costs out the roof, deficits that our great-grand children will be paying off, and they want us to fire the people that are fixin' their screw-ups........they announce a make-over for themselves and it's the same clowns in make-up......maybe in another 50 years they maybe become the majority but I pray to GOD ...Not now Lord ...Not now.....

    May 2, 2009 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  14. Larry

    What a joke ...

    The Republican party trying to reshape their image ...

    Like water trying to look like sand ...

    Laugh Out Loud ...

    May 2, 2009 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  15. Matthew

    Liberals are scared of Mitt Romney

    I'd PAY to see a debate between Obama and Romney on economic issues

    If the economy hasn't recovered come 2012, Obama is going to have serious trouble with Romney

    May 2, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  16. Matt

    Mitt Romney is a complete moron...Dems are the party of monarchist's? How many drinks before he came up with that one?

    May 2, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  17. nick

    It appears that "Steve from Summerset" captured the whole picture of the fall from power of the Republican Party... Great job Steve. It´s to bad there are so many uninformed responders to these comments. People like Steve will keep Pres. Obama in office for a full two terms.

    May 2, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  18. Bill

    Different face same old song until the Republicans get out of everybody private lives they are going to continue to go down the drain!

    May 2, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  19. Kaye -Jacksonville FL

    Jeb Bush?? Living in Florida, I can tell you Georgie's brother is a bit smarter, more articulate – but he's got the same political philosophy as every other Republican. He screwed public education here – caved to every land developer that greased the Florida budget – couldn't care less about our environment... oh yeah, he's the guy to rebrand the GOP...

    May 2, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  20. Matt

    And by the way...they should all be listening to Meghan McCain.

    May 2, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  21. Clifford in New York

    The Liberal Dems would have some validity if it weren't for that media brain washing that was impaled into there thick sculls for the last eight years!

    May 2, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  22. gl, Pittsburgh

    New America and what are the rest of us old Ameicans you racist bigs?

    May 2, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  23. Opinion

    The republicans are definitely NOT the party of the revolutionaries. Judging by the income gap & haves vs have nots, the republicans would fit the "monarchists" label to a tee. Talk about delusional!

    May 2, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  24. Daniel, Atlanta, GA, ex-republican

    Unfortunately, the GOP has managed to become the "exclusive" party. If you're not a right-wing evangelical Southerner, you can't feel included in the Republican party.

    Basically, it's the "Christians-only" Republican party of mean-spiritedness.

    It's sad.

    May 2, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  25. gl, Pittsburgh

    Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and why would American people listen to the one who help his brother win the election in 2000 and Jeb Bush you are the last person to be giving American any advise. THE BUSH FAMILY IS DONE FOR GOOD! YOUR BROTHER BROUGHT THIS COUNTRY TO IT'S KNEES!

    May 2, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
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