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Senate Republicans are likely to engage in a more serious message makeover than they previously thought following a private strategy session Tuesday where they reviewed new polling data showing tax cuts are no longer priority No. 1 with key independent voters.
The news, GOP Senators acknowledged afterward, served as an important wake-up call as the party undergoes its massive internal image overhaul. The theme of lower taxes has been a cornerstone of the Republican platform for more than a decade, and one that they have continued to keep in their arsenal leading up to and even following the party’s devastating Congressional losses in the 2006 elections.
“It’s a classic example of, ‘you can’t live in the past,’” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “The American people are beyond ‘what have you done for me lately.’ It’s about ‘what can you do for me tomorrow.’”
Led by Senate GOP Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Republicans have been engaging in a soul-searching exercise over their message and platform since the beginning of the year. The effort involves using public opinion polling, focus groups and Member-to-Member discussions to determine how the GOP can reconnect with the public and set a course to reclaim the Congressional majority.
Republicans already have started to put some of their findings to use, including during this week’s debate on the state of the troop “surge” in Iraq in which they cautioned against a rush to judgment. GOP Senators have largely articulated a view that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, should be listened to and that Congress ultimately should heed his recommendations to ensure a successful outcome in the region.
Tuesday’s strategy meeting, which mirrors a similar Senate session in July, involved key presentations from GOP pollster (and Roll Call Contributing Writer) David Winston and strategist Richard Thau, who outlined what messages are working for Republicans, and what are not. The findings, according to sources familiar with the session, showed Senators that Americans are far more focused on key domestic reforms like health care reform and the level of government spending rather than on previously enacted GOP tax reductions.
Any talk about taxes should be focused on the present or the future, the data showed, rather than on a period the public no longer remembers or is focused on. The findings also noted that voters are not for tax hikes, especially when they believe Washington continues to “waste the tax money” it already collects.
“Our discussion of tax cuts has had its effect, in a sense,” Kyl explained.
Republican Senate sources said the latest information provides some of the most concrete evidence yet that Senators need to break from the old messages of the Bush administration, which spearheaded the then-GOP majority’s tax reductions of 2001 and 2003. It also shows Republicans relied too easily on tax cuts as the answer to every domestic problem, they said.
“That kind of messaging no longer works on its own,” explained one senior GOP Senate aide. “We’ve worn out the message.”