US Republicans say party needs to get with the times

Updated 18 November 2012
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US Republicans say party needs to get with the times

WASHINGTON: To hear some Republicans tell it, their party needs to get with the times.
Some of the early prescriptions offered by officials and operatives to rebuild after a devastating loss: retool the party message to appeal to Latinos, women and working-class people; upgrade antiquated get-out-the-vote systems with the latest technology; teach candidates how to handle the new media landscape.
From longtime Republican luminaries to the party’s rising stars, almost everyone asked about the Republicans’ Nov. 6 election drubbing seems to agree that a wholesale update is necessary for a party that appears to be running years behind Democrats in adapting to rapidly changing campaigns and an evolving electorate.
Interviews with more than a dozen Republicans at all levels of the party indicated that post-election soul-searching must quickly turn into a period of action.
“We’ve got to have a very brutally honest review from stem to stern of what we did and what we didn’t do, and what worked and what failed,” said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbor, who ran the party in the 1990s.
The party “has to modernize in a whole wide range of ways,” added former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who ran against White House nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential primary. “We were clearly wrong on a whole range of fronts.”
To determine what went wrong, the Republican National Committee is examining every detail of the 2012 elections, with the goal of rebuilding the party for the future — much as the Democratic Party did in the 1980s after suffering a series of stinging losses at all levels of government.
Now, as was the case back then, the stakes are enormous for the party that failed to win the White House and has lost the popular vote for several national elections in a row. They’re perhaps even higher for Republicans grappling for ways to court a rapidly changing electorate whose voting groups don’t naturally gravitate toward the Republican Party. The dangers of failing to act could be severe: permanent minority status.
So it’s little surprise that, after the election, some Republicans were quick to sound stark warnings.
The scale of the losses largely shocked a party whose top-shelf operatives went into Election Day believing Republicans had at least a decent chance of capturing the White House and gaining ground in Congress, where Republicans controlled the House of Representatives and had a sizable minority in the Senate.
Instead, Romney lost all but one of the nine contested battleground states, North Carolina, to President Barack Obama. Republicans also lost ground to Democrats in both houses of Congress, though Republicans retained their House majority.
How to move forward dominated the discussions at last week’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas, where some of the party’s leading voices castigated Romney’s assessment — made in what was supposed to be a private telephone call to donors — that Obama won re-election because of the “gifts” the president had provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters. These governors faulted Romney.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal attributed Romney’s loss to a lack of “a specific vision that connected with the American people.”
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who describes himself as a “pro-choice moderate Republican,” echoed Republicans across the spectrum when he said last week: “We need to be a larger-tent party.” Brown lost his Senate seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
Across the board, Republicans say that arguably the most urgent task facing the party is changing its attitude about immigration as it looks to woo Hispanics. This rapidly growing group voted overwhelmingly for Obama, by margins of 7-to-1 over Romney, who had shifted to the right on the issue during the Republican primary campaign.
It didn’t take long after the election for even staunch conservatives to start changing their tune on immigration. Days after the election, even conservative TV and radio host Sean Hannity said he would support an immigration reform bill.
Said Barbor: “If we would be for good economic policy in terms of immigration, that would go a long way toward solving the political problem.”
It’s not just Hispanics.
Republicans said they also have work to do with single women and younger voters, many of whom tend to be more liberal on social issues than the current Republican Party. These Republicans said a change in tone is needed, though not a change in principles such as opposition to abortion.
“We need to make sure that we’re not perceived as intolerant,” said Ron Kaufman, a veteran Republican strategist who advised Romney’s campaign. “The bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others.”
Republicans also said the party has to work on its relationship with working-class voters.
“Republicans have to start understanding that small business and entrepreneurs are important, but the people who work for them are also important,” said Rep. Charles Bass of New Hampshire, who lost his seat to Democrat Ann Kuster. “We’ve got to be compassionate conservatives.”
Republican leaders also said their party needs to change how it communicates its message. Obama’s campaign, they said, was particularly effective at talking directly to voters, and building relationships over long periods of time, whereas the Republicans were more focused on top-down communication such as TV ads and direct mail.
“There are whole sections of the American public that we didn’t even engage with,” Gingrich said.
Others pointed to the pressing need to recruit candidates who know how to stick to a carefully honed message, especially in a Twitter-driven era. Among their case studies: Senate candidates Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri, who both discussed rape and pregnancy during the campaign, to the chagrin of party leaders looking to narrow the Democrats’ advantage among women.
“We need candidates who are capable of articulating their policy positions without alienating massive voting blocs,” said Kevin McLaughlin, a Republican operative who worked on several Senate races for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Many Republicans say the party doesn’t have a choice but to change — and quickly.
Said Kaufmann: “In this business, either you learn and grow or you die.”
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Follow Kasie Hunt on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kasie and Steve Peoples at http://www.twitter.com/sppeoples


Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

Updated 24 min 1 sec ago
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Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

  • Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium
  • For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago

BEIJING: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed his “bitter sorrow” after dozens of Chinese tourists were killed when a bus they were traveling in plunged off a bridge.
Thirty-two Chinese tourists and four North Koreans perished in the accident south of Pyongyang Sunday night, Chinese officials and state media said. Two other Chinese nationals were injured.
In a rare admission of negative news from North Korea’s tightly controlled propaganda network, the KCNA news agency on Tuesday said Kim met personally with the Chinese ambassador in Pyongyang and later visited survivors in hospital.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, carried a front-page on Kim’s actions, including pictures of him in a doctor’s white coat, holding the two survivors’ hands as they lay in their hospital beds.
Although such a move might be unsurprising in other countries, it is an unusual portrayal of Kim, who is usually shown presiding over formal meetings or visiting work or army units.
Kim “said that the unexpected accident brought bitter sorrow to his heart and that he couldn’t control his grief at the thought of the bereaved families who lost their blood relatives,” KCNA reported.
The North Korean leader said his people “take the tragic accident as their own misfortune,” it added.
The fulsomeness of Kim’s comments reflects the importance of China — and its tourists — to his country and economy.
Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium.
Their relationship was forged in the blood of the Korean War, and while it has soured more recently, with China increasingly exasperated by the North’s nuclear antics and enforcing UN Security Council sanctions against it, there has been an improvement in recent weeks.
Last month, Kim embarked on his first overseas trip since inheriting power in 2011 to finally pay his respects to Chinese President Xi Jinping and was warmly welcomed in Beijing.
China is by far the biggest source of tourists for the North, with direct flights and a long land border connecting the neighbor, and tens of thousands are believed to visit every year, many crossing via train through the Chinese border city of Dandong.
For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago.
In contrast Western visitors to the North once averaged around 5,000 a year, but numbers have been hit recently by a US travel ban — Americans accounted for around 20 percent of the market — and official warnings from other countries.
Xinhua news agency reported that the bus had fallen from a bridge in North Hwanghae province.
China’s state broadcaster showed images of a large overturned vehicle, with light rain falling on rescue vehicles at night and doctors attending to a patient.
KCNA said the crash was “an unexpected traffic accident that claimed heavy casualties among Chinese tourists.” It gave no breakdown on the numbers killed or injured.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Tuesday a group of officials and five medical experts had arrived in Pyongyang to assist the North in treating the injured and dealing with the aftermath.
They also visited a temporary morgue for the dead to check their identities and express condolences, it said.
North Hwanghae province lies south of Pyongyang and stretches to the border with South Korea. It includes the city of Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital with historical sites and, until recently, a manufacturing complex operated with the South.
The tour group was traveling by bus from Kaesong to Pyongyang when the accident happened, according to the independent Seoul-based website NK News, which cited an unnamed source.
North Korean roads are largely poor and potholed, and in many areas, they are dirt rather than tarmac. Vehicles are sometimes forced to ford rivers or take detours when bridges are unpassable.
But the route from Pyongyang to Kaesong is one of the best in the country.
It runs north-south from the Chinese border to the Demilitarized Zone on the border with South Korea but has little traffic, like all North Korean highways.
Tank traps have been installed along the road in many locations — sets of high concrete columns on either side of the road that can easily be blown up to create an obstruction for invading armored vehicles.