After big losses, GOP looks to rebuild public trust
Leaders say they’ll have to examine their party’s ‘brand’ and consider new faces.
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An example of how a minority can still win on issues is last summer’s protest over energy policy, launched by House conservative Reps. Mike Pence of Indiana and Tom Price and Lynn Westmoreland, both of Georgia. Instead of returning to their districts for August recess, Republicans held daily protests on a darkened House floor over the need to lift a ban on offshore drilling.Skip to next paragraph
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“While Democrats were on vacations and book tours, we stayed in town demanding a vote, defying expectations and putting the country’s interests ahead of our own,” Boehner wrote. “We showed Americans we stand with them.”
Bipartisanship on select issues?
On the Senate side, GOP leader McConnell is signaling the new administration that he will cooperate with them on bipartisan issues, such as implementing the president-elect’s campaign promises to cut taxes, increase energy security, reduce spending and ease “the burden of an immense and growing national debt.”
“On these, and other bipartisan issues, he will find cooperation in the Senate,” McConnell said in a statement on Nov. 5.
With enough votes to mount a filibuster, Republicans can block legislation that falls outside the scope of those issues.
But many conservative activists predict that stepping up the fight as a minority won’t be enough to bring the party back into power.
“You’re likely to have a rejection of a lot of the establishment leaders that dominate things today within the Republican Party and articulate conservatives stepping forward,” says David Keene, who chairs the American Conservative Union, the largest grass-roots conservative lobby group.
“The fact is the Democrats won this election because Republicans managed in the last few years to screw up their performance,” he adds. When Democrats assume they have a mandate to launch big spending programs, they will “overreach” and wind up in the same position.
But there’s a growing sense among some party backbenchers that the party needs more than to wait for Democrats to slip.
After the 1964 defeat of GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Republicans used their years in the wilderness to sharpen a message.
“We built over a period from 1964 to 1980 the intellectual case against the welfare state that the Democratic Party had become, and for 25 years this has been an effective agenda for the Republicans,” says Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama.
“But as we’ve been in office for a long time, we’ve got senators who think they’re getting elected by short-term political maneuvering, such as bringing home benefits for their state. That would have been fine in 1994, but you’ve got to be more sophisticated today and be more sensitive to what people’s real concerns are,” he adds.
The need isn’t just a new face for the Republican Party, he says. It’s for deeper ideas and a sharper way to convey them.