GOP Gurus Say Party Fortunes Will Improve

By Teddy Davis

Apr 29, 2009 12:11pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis reports: Two GOP heavyweights – former Bush adviser Ed Gillespie and Republican pollster Whit Ayres – joined forces on Wednesday to launch Resurgent Republic, a group focused on shaping the debate over the role of government at a time when the Republican Party finds itself at one of its lowest points in decades. Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Ayres said that although the Republican Party has been written off several times over the years, it has always bounced back. "After Johnson-Goldwater in ’64, Watergate in ’74 and ’76, after the Bill Clinton election in 1992, in every one of those cases, the Republican Party has made a comeback, just as it will make a comeback this time," said Ayres, who has advised several winning Senate and gubernatorial campaigns. Resurgent Republic is being launched just one day after longtime Republican Sen. Arlen Specter left the GOP, tipping the scales of power towards the Democrats. The Pennsylvania senator’s defection from the Republican Party put a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate within reach of a Democratic Party that already has an iron grip on the House of Representatives in addition to controlling the White House. With the GOP’s fortunes at what Ayres described as its “nadir,” a debate is now underway among Republicans over what direction the party should follow. Former McCain adviser Steve Schmidt recently urged his fellow Republicans to embrace gay marriage as a way of signaling tolerance to younger voters who voted heavily for Barack Obama in November. Other conservative thinkers, like the authors of Grand New Party, think the GOP needs to embrace family-friendly government activism on behalf of working class voters who are struggling with the effects of both economic dislocation and marital breakdown.  The heads of Resurgent Republic, by contrast, seem to favor a more traditional Republican path of opposing "policies that stifle job creation, weaken national security and undermine values that have made America a great country." "America remains a center-right country and they perceive Barack Obama as a liberal," said Ayres. "They voted for him not because he represented liberal policies but because he represented ‘change.’" Resurgent Republic hopes to shape the political debate by using a steady stream of national polls and focus groups to gauge public opinion about policy proposals under consideration by the White House and Congress. The model that Gillespie and Ayres are hoping to emulate is that of Democracy Corps, a liberal group founded by former Clinton advisers James Carville and Stan Greenberg which aims to move the public debate in a progressive direction by providing free polling information. Looking at Obama’s first 100 Days in office, Gillespie, the author of "Winning Right," said the new president "enjoys strong approval from the public." He said Republicans should be encouraged, however, because, in his view, "there is increasing skepticism about the policies that are emerging from Washington from this White House and this Congress." "If you’re a Republican, that is some good news," Gillespie added. Echoing the argument made by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, Ayres said that both Republican and independent voters are "very sympathetic" to the message that "the government borrows too much, taxes too much, and spends too much." Gillespie, who served as chairman of the Republican National Committee when Specter last won re-election, said the Pennsylvania senator’s defection was more about self-preservation than anything else. "The Republican Party has always been to the right of Arlen Specter," said Gillespie. "The difference between 2004, when I was chairman, and 2010 when he is running again, is that in 2010 he has calculated that he can’t win the Republican Party primary — and that’s understandable." Resurgent Republic’s advisory board consists of multiple prominent Republicans who have held senior party positions, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman; George Allen, a former Virginia senator who once chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Bill Paxon, a former New York congressman who once chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Vin Weber, a former member of the House Republican leadership, and Mary Matalin, a former executive director of the RNC.

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