WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Paul Ryan has a message for fellow Republicans: Let's stick together and carefully pick our fights with President Barack Obama.
In a speech Saturday to conservatives, the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 vice presidential nominee outlined a pragmatic approach for dealing with a second Obama administration. Saying that Obama would attempt to divide Republicans, Ryan urged them to avoid internal squabbles.
"We can't get rattled. We won't play the villain in his morality plays. We have to stay united," Ryan said at the National Review Institute's weekend conference on the future of conservatism. "We have to show that if given the chance, we can govern. We have better ideas."
The GOP is reeling from back-to-back presidential defeats and trying to determine whether to oppose Obama at every turn or shape his proposals with conservative principles.
How the party rebounds was a major theme of the three-day meeting of conservative activists, a dominant voice in the GOP. A similar theme dominated the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, which ended Friday in Charlotte, N.C.
With a surging minority population altering the electorate, Republican leaders have discussed the need to attract more women and Hispanics while at the same time standing firm on the values that unite conservatives. Republicans said despite the losses, the party could return to power by projecting optimism and attracting new voters with a message of economic opportunity.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a star among conservatives after surviving a union-led campaign to recall him from office, said government needed "brown-bag common sense," a reference to his frugal practice of packing his own lunch of ham-and-cheese sandwiches every day. Qualities like optimism, staying relevant to voters and showing courage in tackling big problems would be rewarded at the voting booth, he said.
"We've got to learn to be more optimistic. We've got to learn to give a viable alternative to the voters," Walker said.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Republicans needed to use upcoming fights over the budget and the deficit as "leverage points" to tame long-term spending and debt. Projecting an upbeat outlook for the party, he said Obama's policies would drive many voters to Republicans just as many Americans turned to Ronald Reagan after the economic turmoil of the late 1970s.
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