WASHINGTON – A group of prominent GOP leaders on Saturday launched an effort to improve their party’s sagging image, hosting an event at which they did not directly attack President Obama, rarely used the word “Republican” and engaged in a healthy dose of self-criticism.
At a suburban pizza restaurant where they officially unveiled the National Council for a New America, party leaders attempted to portray Republicans as sensitive to the concerns of average Americans and to shake off the “Party of No” label that Democrats have tried to affix to the GOP.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, of Virginia, rejected the idea that Saturday’s event, the first in a national series, was about “rebranding” the GOP, but it gave the impression of a party looking for a fresh start. Cantor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lobbed criticism at “Washington” and “liberals.” They took few shots at Obama as they pledged to start a “conversation” with voters nationwide.
The three men were flanked by banners bearing the name of the council and its Web address ( www.wethepeopleplan.org), but there were no obvious signs that it was a major Republican initiative. They repeatedly noted that they were speaking about policy, not politics, and they touted conservative ideas on issues such as health care and education while bemoaning initiatives that involved more government intervention.
In answering an attack on Obama, Bush included a critique of his own party.
“To candidate Obama’s credit, he waged a 2008 campaign that was relevant for people’s aspirations, whether you agree with him or not. It was not a look back, but a look forward,” Bush said. Comparing the GOP’s campaign themes last year, he said, “I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia for the good old days in the messaging.”
Cantor took the lead in forming the group, which he says is officially nonpartisan, though it includes no Democrats and will be operated out of his office.
The initiative reflects the emerging consensus of Republican leaders on how to take on Obama and rebuild their party. Worried that the GOP is being portrayed only as the opposition party, prominent Republicans hope to draw attention to their agenda by using well-known figures such as Bush and Romney to tout their ideas.