For The GOP, A Time For Reflection

Republicans have had a bad Election Day, with losses in the presidential and key House and Senate races. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) says the party needs to embrace the principles that made it great in the past. It needs to change its tactics, he says, not its values.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News, I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Republicans are taking stock after Barack Obama's decisive win and the Democratic Party's gains in the House and Senate. Just one example, editors of the Conservative National Review wrote today that the public has rejected the present configuration of the Republican Party, and they said they look forward to a lively debate among conservatives about the future.

SIEGEL: Well, we called someone who has done a lot of work for the McCain campaign to talk about what's next for the Republicans. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback was a national McCain campaign co-chair.

BLOCK: Senator Brownback, welcome to the program

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: We're looking now at two straight elections that have given Democrats big gains in Congress. There will now also be a Democrat in the White House, of course. How gloomy are you, given these results?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Oh, not gloomy at all. And first, I hope we recognize - it really was a historic election, and I'm just thinking about it. Here I am in Topeka, Kansas, home of the Brown versus Board of Education case of doing away with separate but equal, and in a generation, we've gone from that to President-elect Barack Obama. That's quite an accomplishment for the country.

BLOCK: Well, what is the good news for Republicans in this election?

Sen. BROWNBACK: I think the good news for the Republicans is that our ideas overall and type of ideas are intact. I think we lost focus on them on fiscal responsibility. and I think that's what we've got to get back to, and I think you'll see us doing that.

BLOCK: You're saying Republicans seemed to have lost focus. There are a number of Republicans who were saying the party needs to find a new direction. Do you agree that the party has, in fact, lost its way?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Well, I think we have on fiscal responsibility. I don't think there's any question about that. I think, on the big bailout crisis, a lot of people would say, we've lost our way on the role of government. But it remains basically and large a party of ideas, and what the ideal role is of the government is one of low taxes, to encourage growth, to help the individual when necessary and when needed, but to be a party that's focused on opportunities more than anything else.

BLOCK: Senator Brownback, if you look at the exit polls from yesterday, 34 percent of voters called themselves conservative, 66 percent considered themselves liberal or moderate, and most of those moderates went for Barack Obama. It's about a 60-40 split. So how do you unify the conservative base of Republicans and also bring in those moderate Republicans who turned away from John McCain, voted for Barack Obama?

Sen. BROWNBACK: How did Ronald Reagan do it? He talked about ideas, and he also talked about a future and a hopefulness, and, you know, the hopeful ground was taken by Barack Obama this time. Americans are hopeful people, and I think they saw in him that same sort of message of a hopefulness that they saw in Ronald Reagan. And I think we've got to get back a hopeful message but yet, still focus on the core types of a base. I really don't think the American public voted for higher taxes or really for an additional trillion dollars in spending. I think they really voted for hope.

BLOCK: Do you think the GOP needs to expand its tent, become more diverse?

Sen. BROWNBACK: I think we need to be bigger about our ideas and by that, I mean, take, for instance, the pro-life agenda. I think we have to be and need to be pro-life and whole life. When we talked about that every life at every place at all times is sacred and then put policy proposals in place, and what we would do to help the poor, what we would do in Darfur or Congo, what we'd do on prison reform because those people caught in situations like that are sacred, too, along with the child in the womb.

That's what I mean about being fuller on our ideas, and I think that can also express this to the general public. It's something that they can grasp of a broader set of ideas that they agree with.

BLOCK: And do you see any movement within your party in that direction, or is it really more a focus on fiscal policy, cutting taxes, smaller government?

Sen. BROWNBACK: No. I think it's one that's being looked at by a number of individuals. It's certainly something I'm interested in, and I'm pushing. But I think, for us to really reach out, we've got to start talking on tough issues of everyday life, of individuals, and showing our policy proposals that are consistent philosophically with the Republican Party base. But of how you deal with issues like I just identified.

BLOCK: Well, Senator Brownback, thanks very much.

Sen. BROWNBACK: My pleasure, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas and a national co-chair of the McCain Campaign.

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