No Jacket Required
05-05-2009
I knew the Republicans were getting down to business with their new rebranding effort, when I saw a clip of Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Eric Cantor sitting on stools in a suburban Virginia pizzeria, sans tie and in shirt sleeves. The sleeves weren’t rolled up to the elbows, as if to “scrub in” Howard Dean-style, but it was clear nonetheless that this gathering was intended to convey a different message.
 
Billed as a “policy-based conversation with America,” the National Council for a New America touts itself as “a caucus of Congressional leaders gathering the expertise of national leaders and doers.” The national leaders and doers are apparently people like Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, and newly-minted member, Sarah Palin. One notable absence from the panel of experts is Newt Gingrich.
 
The idea is an attempt by Congressional Republicans to transcend their current reputation as the party of “no,” by developing a policy agenda that springs organically from town hall meetings around the country. The initiative also looks to broaden interest in the party by seeking policy common ground with moderates and independents on issues like the economy, health care, and education. Glaringly absent from the organization’s policy statement (and the weekend pizza party) is any mention of the divisive social issues so dear to the party’s right wing.
 
Many political observers (me included) have challenged Republicans to go beyond their constant criticism of President Obama and come up with some sort of alternative policy agenda that can be competitively assessed against the Obama Administration’s ideas. In that respect, I suppose the NCNA is a reasonable attempt by Republican political elites to get something forward-looking going.
 
But spend a few minutes sampling the derision leveled at it by conservative talk radio, and you will get a pretty good sense of the potential difficulty the council will encounter with the party’s conservative base. My guess is the council will spend as much time defending its right flank as it does reaching a new policy consensus with the center, but it seems like some Republican political elites are now willing to engage that battle.


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