Virginia Republicans are in the midst of a three-day gathering to sort through what happened in their across-the-board losses at the ballot box in 2013. (We previewed this autopsy here.)
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spoke Saturday -- a speech in which he tried to offer a vision for how the party can start winning again. Here's the crux of the Cantor argument:
Winning elections is about convincing the voters that the we have their back, that we’re on their side. If we want to win, we must offer solutions to problems that people face every day. We have not done this recently and it has allowed Democrats to take power, it has allowed them to push their partisan politics, and even worse to enact their leftist agenda.
Cantor is right. Republicans have lost recent elections -- both in Virginia and nationally -- because they have been unable to (a) prove to voters they have a positive vision for the country and (b) effectively push back on the picture that Democrats have painted of them as cold, unfeeling plutocrats. In the 2012 presidential election, for instance, Barack Obama won 81 percent of those voters who said a candidate who "cares about people like me" was the most important attribute in deciding their vote.
But, simply diagnosing the problem is not terribly new -- or all that effective. The problem for Republicans at the moment -- particularly those in Congress -- is that the party is most animated not by its positive vision, to the extent one currently exists, but rather by its opposition to President Obama's vision. (Cantor described Obamacare as "one of the greatest attacks on hardworking taxpayers this country has ever seen.") And, attempts to reimagine party positions on issues like immigration -- by the likes of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio -- have been met with passionate disapproval by the party base.
So, yes, Cantor is right that the party needs to find ways to be for things that a majority of the American public also want. But, his insistence that "our conservative solutions actually work to address the problems people face every day" is not one that Virginia voters shared at the ballot box last month. Half of the Virginia electorate thought that state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's positions were "too conservative," according to exit polling.
Whether you think that is a problem of how people perceive the Republican brand or the Republican brand itself generally depends on which side of the partisan aisle you call home. But, no matter what, Republicans have a problem. Cantor knows it. But knowing it and knowing how to solve it are two very different things.