WASHINGTON — A group of prominent GOP leaders launched an effort Saturday to improve their party's sagging image, hosting an event at which they did not directly attack the president, rarely used the word "Republican" and engaged in a healthy dose of self-criticism.
At a suburban pizza restaurant where they officially unveiled the National Council for a New America, party leaders attempted to portray Republicans as sensitive to the concerns of average Americans and to shake off the "Party of No" label that Democrats have tried to affix to the GOP.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia rejected the idea that Saturday's event, the first in a national series, was about "rebranding" the GOP, but it gave the impression of a party looking for a fresh start. Cantor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lobbed criticism at "Washington" and "liberals." They took few shots at President Barack Obama as they pledged to start a "conversation" with voters nationwide.
The three men were flanked by banners bearing the name of the council and its Web address (www.wethepeopleplan.org), but there were no obvious signs that it was a major Republican initiative.
In answering an attack on Obama, Bush included a critique of his own party. "To candidate Obama's credit, he waged a 2008 campaign that was relevant for people's aspirations, whether you agree with him or not. It was not a look back, but a look forward," Bush said. Comparing the GOP's campaign themes last year, he said, "I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia for the good old days in the messaging."
Cantor took the lead in forming the group, which he says is officially nonpartisan, though it includes no Democrats and will be operated out of his office.
The town-hall-style event drew a crowd of more than 100.