- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it’s time for the Republican Party to give up its “nostalgia” for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election.

“You can’t beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don’t like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that,” Mr. Bush said.

The former president’s brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama’s message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.

“So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it’s great, but it doesn’t draw people toward your cause,” Mr. Bush said.

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“From the conservative side, it’s time for us to listen first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit, to not be nostalgic about the past because, you know, things do ebb and flow.”

The Florida governor joined former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor on Saturday at a small pizza parlor in Arlington for the inaugural event of the National Council for a New America (NCNA).

Mr. Cantor said meeting with ordinary folks is the key way “to begin a conversation with the American people” and explain Republican principles to anyone who will listen.

Mr. Romney, a failed 2008 Republican presidential candidate, said his party has got to do a better job of listening. “Let’s not underestimate the people of America; let’s make sure and listen to the people of America … listen to what they’re feeling and get their ideas,” he said.

The NCNA - with a “national panel of experts” made up of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Mr. Bush and Mr. Romney - says the goal of the listening tour is not to recast the party.

“This is not about messaging, this is not about branding,” Mr. Cantor told The Washington Times. “This is about trying to foster some discussion, because what’s going on in Washington right now is not reflective of the mainstream of this country.

“The Republican Party is founded on some common-sense conservative principles that are as effective today as they’ve always been. We just need to make sure we’re listening to the people,” he said.

Mr. Romney said as well there will be no wholesale changes to the core tenets of the party. “I think the principles remain the same,” he told The Times after the hourlong session. “I think we have to be very clear in what we stand for and make sure that the American people understand that we’re in this to help America’s future and their families.”

Republicans were hammered in the 2006 midterm elections - losing the House and Senate in what former President George W. Bush called a “thumpin’ ” - and Mr. Obama won a slew of once-staunch Republican states in his decisive 2008 victory. Many in the party were not thrilled with GOP candidate Mr. McCain, a self-described “maverick” who often shunned core Republican principles.

Since the election, the party has fallen into disarray. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele is not particularly popular among the conservative core; and while the 2012 election seems far off, the next election is 18 months away.

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