Senate GOP Leader Says Party Must Change

After crushing defeats in back-to-back elections, the top Senate Republican warned Thursday that the GOP risks remaining out of power in the White House and Congress unless it better explains its core principles to woo one-time faithful and new loyalists.

"Unless we do something to adapt, our status as a minority party may become too pronounced for an easy recovery," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the Republican National Committee on Thursday. "The situation is challenging, but it's far from irreversible."

McConnell gave a stark assessment of where the Republican Party went wrong and provided a road map for how it can right itself as he spoke party activists gathered in Washington to choose the next national chairman.

With voting slated for Friday, four candidates are trying to unseat former President George W. Bush's hand-picked RNC chairman, Mike Duncan of Kentucky. They are: former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson and Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis.

A fifth — former Tennessee GOP chairman Chip Saltsman — dropped out of the race on Thursday with little explanation, saying only in a letter to RNC members: "I have decided to withdraw my candidacy."

Saltsman, who ran former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's failed presidential campaign last year, was considered a long-shot candidate who several Republican officials said likely wouldn't have had enough support even to be formally nominated had he continued his bid.

It faltered in December after he drew controversy for mailing a 41-track CD to committee members that included a song titled "Barack the Magic Negro," by conservative comedian Paul Shanklin and sung to the music of "Puff, the Magic Dragon." Despite criticism, Saltsman didn't apologize and defended the tune as one of several "lighthearted political parodies" that have aired on Rush Limbaugh's radio show.

All of Duncan's challengers have spent the past few months arguing that he simply represents a continuation of Bush; Duncan has argued he has the experience to make necessary changes.

Republicans say it's all but certain no one will get a majority on the first ballot when the 168-member RNC votes. Republicans say Duncan leads in endorsements for a second two-year term, with Steele, Dawson and Anuzis in competitive positions, while Blackwell trails. Still, with at least two rounds of balloting expected, it's possible anyone could end up with a majority.

Just eight years after Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, the GOP finds itself out of power and trying to figure out how to rebound while its foe has grown much stronger. The Democratic Party is empowered by a broadened coalition of voters — including Hispanics and young voters — who swung behind President Barack Obama's call for change.

Meanwhile, Bush left the White House with low job approval ratings, Republicans saw their ranks in Congress grow even smaller and the party finds itself without a standard-bearer. Perhaps even more damaging to the GOP, the slice of the country that calls itself Republican has shrunk over the past few years as Obama and his Democrats attracted voters of all political stripes.

Implicit in McConnell's message was the concern that the Republican Party under Bush strayed from its beliefs, resulting in drubbings in two straight elections.

While McConnell praised Bush as a man of principle, he said: "We can all agree, sad as it is, that he wasn't winning any popularity contests. And history shows that unpopular presidents are usually a drag on everybody else who wears their political label."

McConnell called for the GOP to embrace its conservative principles — and resist diluting its message — to bring people back and attract new rank and file. Still, he added: "It's clear our message isn't getting out to nearly as many people as it should. ... Too often we've let others define us. And the image they've painted isn't very pretty."

He acknowledged GOP fears that certain demographics from certain regions have shunned the party. And, he warned: "In politics, there's a name for a regional party: it's called a minority party."

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  • by Buzz Location: Mbx on Jan 30, 2009 at 03:30 PM
    Yup, that's what I've been sayin' all along, if you're gonna act like the democrats, you might as well be one. And, that really came home to roost on the mamby pamby republicans this last trip around. the Buzz-
  • by Ron Location: Merritt,NC on Jan 30, 2009 at 06:32 AM
    VBush, you ahd I must have been separated at birth!!!
  • by VBush Location: MHCY on Jan 30, 2009 at 05:08 AM
    The Republicans being 'painted in a bad image' isn't anyone's fault except the Republicans. Our currently elected officials have laid down, bent over, backed off, and run away every time there is a fight. McCain and his RINO cronies are the biggest reasons for this. We don't want anyone 'crossing the aisle'! You see where that got us, as if real conservatives didn't know what the result of that would be to begin with. There is nothing more cancerous to an organization than an indecisive leader. If you don't know where you are going, you are going to end up someplace else. Now here we sit with a bunch of feckless morons holding the keys to the kingdom, and when it is all said and done, who can we really blame? We can only blame the people that were supposed to keep that from happening, because when all the B.S. is in fact their fault. Our indecisive leaders have led us to this point and the damage will be wide and all encompassing. Thanks Republicans for letting us down!
  • by Ron Location: Merritt, NC on Jan 30, 2009 at 04:31 AM
    I hope this is a step in the right direction. The current plight of the Republican Party is the result of many of our elected GOP members pandering to the Democrats and trying to "get along" and "work with bipartisanship", which only tended to weaken the Republican Party. We can't beat the Democrats by trying to be like them. If we had had a strong Conservative running for the Presidency in 2008 instead of the liberal McCain, and George Bush had not turned liberal during his last term, the President would be a Republican and the Congress would be a Republican majority today. Conservativism wins every time!!!

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