The chairman of the American Conservative Union Foundation Saturday said one way for Republicans to gain stature lost in recent elections is by focusing on substantive issues rather than worry excessively about beating Democrats at the ground game.
Cleta Mitchell, a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner and a National Rifle Association board member, said Republicans need to develop a "get out the vote" mechanism similar to Democrats but that the best way to do that is through grassroots techniques.
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Mitchell also charged that the left is continually focused on rewriting rules governing voting registration, campaign finance and other election-related issues rather than substance.
"The left believes that they can just keep changing the rules and can find a formula that will enable them to win at the ballot box, even if the majority of American people disagree with their policies. That's what I think we have to be worried about as conservatives," she said.
Addressing the demographic changes impacting the country and their effect on Republican success, the Oklahoma native said it's important to remember that bringing new groups into the party isn't going to happen by issuing 30-second TV commercials.
"We have to go back to the basics of how the Republican Party was built. In a state like mine when I was growing up, there were no Republicans to speak of in Oklahoma and now it's a completely red state," she said. "How did that happen? It happened over time starting at a local, grassroots level and communicating with people door-to-door, in the coffee shops, at the courthouse, electing Republicans at the local level and really communicating that we really do care about you and the future of the country."
Mitchell said ensuring voters that there will be opportunities for their kids and grandkids is a universal message on which Republicans can capitalize.
"Most Americans do care about opportunities for their kids and grandkids. Somehow we have to realize that we have to stop talking at people and find new ways to communicate with people who may not look like us, speak our language and draw them into the principles and values that come with being an American," she said.
She said Republicans will enjoy more success by appealing to voter values and dreams rather than talking about policies alone.
Mitchell's comments come at a time when the Republican Party as a whole is working to address these issues, which were front and center this week at the Republican National Committee's winter meetings. After listening to party chairman Reince Priebus and others, Mitchell believes that a business-as-usual approach simply won't work anymore.
"I would say to anybody who's a donor to the Republican Party or conservative causes, issue groups or candidates, one of the things that's unfortunately happened to conservatives and Republicans over the last two decades has been that consultants and the political class are the ones charged with responsibility for determining how we're going to communicate our ideas at election time.
"They get paid a lot or money to do that whether or not they're successful and year in and year out, the same people are hired, even if they're not successful and they make a lot of money even when they lose.“
She said the party has not placed a premium on finding new approaches.
"Donors need to start demanding some accountability and finding out how their money is being spent and not having this big disconnect between what the chairman says we need to do and what is being done," Mitchell said.
Turning to the discussions in Washington over new gun control initiatives, the NRA board member believes those who care about gun rights will hold Congress' power in check.
"I don't believe law-abiding citizens are going to allow Congress or state legislatures to infringe upon their Second Amendment rights. The thing we have to fear is (President Obama) doing by executive order what he cannot do through Congress and that's where we have to be prepared to go to the courts," she said.
Mitchell said the NRA is prepared for court fights over gun proposals, just as organizations favoring additional gun control are readying for battle as well.
"We just have to suck it up and realize we're going to have to be able to pay some lawyers to go to court and uphold the Constitution because this administration is clearly not interested in doing that, notwithstanding the oath he (the president) took last Monday," Mitchell said.
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