The Capitol is seen at sunrise in Washington, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013
(CBS NEWS) -- For the past two years, since winning back control of the House of
Representatives, the Republican Party has had a remarkably singular
focus on cutting government spending.
The debt limit
needs to be raised? Not without cutting spending. New Jersey needs
emergency relief funds after a hurricane? Some conservatives first
wanted to find a way to offset those costs.
The focus on
spending was far from a surprise: The GOP made huge gains in the 2010
election on a wave of tea party zeal based on concerns about President
Obama's government overreach. The debt, meanwhile, has increased $5.8 trillion
under Mr. Obama's leadership. The attention on this issue, however,
hasn't paid off in the polls or the ballot box. The president easily won
re-election last year, while Democrats made gains in both the House and
the Senate. The latest CBS News/ New York Times poll shows that congressional Republicans have just a 19 percent approval rating.
the 2012 elections behind them, the Republican Party is now trying to
regroup. A week after House Republicans met behind closed doors to
ponder their future, GOP leaders are gathering at the Republican
National Committee (RNC)'s winter meeting this week in Charlotte, N.C.,
to discuss the way forward, which means moving beyond spending cuts.
"Today's conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the
hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the
mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs...even
as we invent new entitlement programs," Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., a
potential 2016 presidential candidate, said at the meeting last night.
"We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping. This is a
rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play."
as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching - even
conservative number crunching - is not the answer to our nation's
problems," Jindal continued. "We must not become the party of austerity.
We must become the party of growth."
Moving away from a
message of austerity will be difficult, given that Congress must still
decide whether to avert the looming "sequestration" cuts set to kick in
March 1. They must also in the coming months raise the nation's debt
limit while explaining to voters what it means for the nation's bills
and for the nation's future spending. But even as they broach these
thorny issues, GOP leaders say they need to do a better job explaining
their economic positions to voters, working on other issues and
expanding their appeal beyond their conservative base.
and other leaders stress that one of their most immediate challenges is
simply recalibrating their message -- not changing their principles.
have to a better job connecting the dots for the American people,"
Republican strategist Terry Holt told CBSNews.com. Holt worked as a
senior communication strategist for three presidential campaigns,
including the Bush-Cheney campaigns, and served as communications
director for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
that Republicans have about the debt and deficit have to be translated
into the everyday impact it has on average Americans," Holt continued.
"We often have this problem when we talk about 'entitlement reform' --
those words aren't particularly effective in communicating what the
crisis is there. When we talk about fixing Medicare, it's often in
budgetary terms. Or when we should be talking about making health care
better, we're instead talking about making health care cheaper."
Adding to the challenge is the Republican notion that Mr. Obama has
refused to engage in a serious discussion about deficits and debt, or
spending cuts. "While he refuses to talk about them, we've become
fixated on talking about them," Holt said.
pollster Kellyanne Conway, who attended last week's House Republican
retreat, told CBSNews.com that her research following the presidential
election bears that out. Republicans lost last year, she said, in part
because they weren't framing their discussion about the economy in terms
that matter most to voters (Conway's research shows voters largely care
about economic security and affordability). Additionally, she said, the
GOP's focus on the economy was just too overwhelming.
economy, Conway noted, has for several years been the top issue for the
plurality of voters -- around 42 percent of voters, she said.
Romney people thought [focusing on] the economy would be enough,"
Conway said. "It's not enough. The 42 percent dismisses the other 58
percent... [The GOP] put too much emphasis on the economy to the
exclusion of things like foreign policy, immigration, education and,
frankly, to the exclusion of necessities like using new media to reach
Republicans are now working on expanding their agenda -- Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for instance, is leading the way on immigration. They're also working on updating their operations, so they can catch up to the Democrats' ground game and use of new media.
need to empower, equip and train our candidates, volunteers, and
operatives," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus plans to say today at the
winter meeting, "whether it's a college activist recruiting volunteers
in Pasadena or a small businesswoman running for town council in New
Jersey. Let's host Skype-based training sessions and Google hangouts on
campaign strategy, fundraising, door-to-door advocacy, and digital
tools... In the digital space, we don't want just to keep up. We want to
seize the lead."
Priebus and Jindal are not only
prescribing a more sophisticated technical network but also a stronger,
broader grassroots network. Jindal said yesterday that the party needs
to "re-orient our focus to the place where conservatism thrives - in the
real world beyond the Washington Beltway." Priebus, in his planned
remarks, notes that "it's time to stop looking at elections through the
lens of 'battleground states.' We have four years till the next
presidential election, and being a 'blue state' is not a permanent