Commenting in the wake of Senator Arlen Specter's defection and poll numbers showing dismal public identification with the Republican Party, Sen. Jon Ensign insisted on Sunday that the GOP had to drop its proverbial litmus tests on electoral candidates.
"Unfortunately, some people have wanted to have just all conservatives in the party, but if you want to be a national party and you want be a majority in Washington," the Nevada Republican and former chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee told "Fox News Sunday," "you have to welcome people who vote differently ... you have to respect each other's differences, not only regional differences, but also ideological differences."
"What we have not done a good job of, particularly in the Northeast, is recruiting the kind of candidates who can win," Ensign added.
The remarks come at a difficult time for Ensign and other GOP officials. Recent polls have showed only 20 to 21 percent of the country identifies with the Republican Party. And with the loss of Specter and the likelihood of Al Franken being seated in the Senate, there are few parliamentary maneuvers the GOP can rely on to affect legislation.
Around the same time as Ensign's appearance on "Fox News Sunday" aired, Specter himself was offering similar lament over the state of his former political party.
"Don't listen to the Club for Growth," the Pennsylvanian said on "Meet the Press," referencing the conservative organization that runs primary challengers to moderate Republicans. "That is a group that in a knowing way has defeated moderate Republicans ... because purity is more important than Republicans in office."
And yet, while Ensign found himself in agreement with his one-time colleague, he still pledged to beat his brains in during the upcoming 2010 elections.
"We want to make sure that Arlen Specter is no longer in the United States Senate after the next election," the Nevadan told Fox News.
Jeb Bush, GOP: Time to leave Reagan behind
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it's time for the Republican Party to give up its "nostalgia" for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election.
"You can't beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don't like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that," Mr. Bush said.
The former president's brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama's message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.
"So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it's great, but it doesn't draw people toward your cause," Mr. Bush said.
"From the conservative side, it's time for us to listen first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit, to not be nostalgic about the past because, you know, things do ebb and flow."
The Florida governor joined former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor on Saturday at a small pizza parlor in Arlington for the inaugural event of the National Council for a New America (NCNA).
Mr. Cantor said meeting with ordinary folks is the key way "to begin a conversation with the American people" and explain Republican principles to anyone who will listen.
Mr. Romney, a failed 2008 Republican presidential candidate, said his party has got to do a better job of listening. "Let's not underestimate the people of America; let's make sure and listen to the people of America ... listen to what they're feeling and get their ideas," he said.
The NCNA - with a "national panel of experts" made up of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Mr. Bush and Mr. Romney - says the goal of the listening tour is not to recast the party.
"This is not about messaging, this is not about branding," Mr. Cantor told The Washington Times. "This is about trying to foster some discussion, because what's going on in Washington right now is not reflective of the mainstream of this country.