Rick Santorum

Republicans don't care.

Or at least that's the perception of us. President Barack Obama's convincing re-election in November despite a climate of high unemployment, stagnant economic growth and waning American influence around the globe has caused a great deal of soul-searching for the Republican Party.

One of the conclusions some of us have come to is that our problem is not the message or the messengers but our own detachment from the needs of struggling working families and our lack of vision and policies that address them.

I was struck reading a recent article in which our presidential nominee, after his loss and after volunteering at a local homeless shelter, said, "(The people there) are used to being ignored, I guess -- mostly by people like me."

I think this is a word picture for Republican leaders in general. What do we need to do to reposition the party, connect with Americans and address what Peggy Noonan so astutely observed -- that it's not that "they" don't like us but that "they" don't think we like them?

This week, conservatives will gather at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and begin the complex process of developing a bold conservative vision that will resonate with all Americans.

My own experience during the 2012 campaign has shaped my view on the way forward. Throughout the campaign, I kept in mind my family and the coal country we came from, the needs of the people I grew up with on VA grounds and the inner city of Philadelphia I represented for 12 years.

I tried to provide a vision for hardworking families I came across during my campaign. Middle America is hurting. But I didn't always keep this in mind in a personal way. I remember being chastised by my staff when, during the second South Carolina debate, none of us expressed sympathy toward the unemployed woman who asked us how we would address her health insurance needs. We talked policy, but did we really care about her?

I believe that the conservative approach that focuses on family, community, the private sector and a limited role of government provides the better framework to develop policies that will address the realities of millions of struggling families. But we have to be much more intentional in applying them.

Rick Santorum

Former Senator Rick Santorum is the author of Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works.

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