No Identity Crisis Here

Republicans Want New Day, Not New Ideas

Posted January 31, 2009 at 7:24am

A smaller-than-ever group of House Republicans on Thursday decamped to the tony Homestead Resort in Virginia, more than 200 miles away from the Capitol.

But instead of exploring what went wrong in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Republicans seemed content with who they are — insisting it wasn’t their ideas that sent them deep into the minority but simply an unfavorable political environment.

Speaker after speaker at the three-day GOP retreat declared victory in last week’s economic stimulus fight and said it was time to simply move beyond the two cycles of losses.

“A few months have passed since the election. It’s enough time to consider the outcome and take stock of our party’s future,” said 2008 presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday afternoon. “I want to make clear that I’m optimistic. Our ideas are good, our agenda will make America stronger and your action this week showed that we have the kind of leaders who stand up for what they believe in.”

Republican leaders touted their ideas as strong and said that despite the results of the 2008 elections, the American people preferred their ideas to that of their Democratic majority colleagues.

GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said the forward-looking approach to the retreat was by design.

“It was very intentional that this retreat is about the future. Some of us spent a lot of time in the last eight years saying things would go a certain way if Republicans didn’t stick to our principles, but those arguments are over,” Pence said.

Pence said that as the Republican Party emerges from under the cloud of unpopular former President George W. Bush, its ideas will become clearer and voters will respond favorably.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said that despite the Conference’s smaller numbers, Congressional Republicans are more important than ever for the country and have a larger responsibility.

“Understand, we are the Republican Party now. We’ve got the governors, we’ve got the Senators,” he said. “But we don’t have the White House. We don’t have this administration and so we have a bigger task than we had prior to Jan. 1.”

Most of the retreat centered on the stimulus package and how the GOP said it managed to control the message despite being locked out of the process by Democratic leaders.

“We were responsible for the agenda for a long time, and we were the proposers of the ideas along with the president. We now find ourselves in a position to be a loyal opposition, and we consider that loyal opposition to be — when they have ideas, we have our ideas also. But it is their proposals that they choose to bring to the floor, not us, so they become the question, not us,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said.

Asked which ideas that they presented were different than those that were presented in the previous Congress, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said, “It comes down to results. For example, right out of the gate, we are looking for a smart stimulus that does exactly what the public is looking for Congress to do — and that is to protect and preserve the jobs that are out there and create new ones.”

He added, “The American people are looking for leadership, and they are looking for results and solutions. They are not looking for this partisanship that continues to plague the House of Representatives, and I think you’ll see us operate in that fashion.”

The message of the strength of Republican ideas was not confined to the GOP in the hills of Virginia. Back in Washington, D.C., at the Republican National Committee meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said the party’s agenda was simply misunderstood and needed to be explained in order to resonate.

“Over the past two elections, we’ve lost 13 Senate seats and 51 House seats. Our most reliable voters are in decline as a percentage of the overall vote,” McConnell said. “Today, as in the past, Republicans have the right solutions for the problems Americans expect government to address.”