WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Thursday urged his party to step past its criticism of President Barack Obama and start rallying behind "unifying goals" it would pursue if voters give the GOP more control over the government after next month's midterm elections.
Priebus released what he called "principles of American renewal" in a speech at George Washington University aimed at refuting criticism, from Democrats and Republicans alike, that the GOP has become little more than an opposition party in recent years. He offered few details as he endorsed a series of "unifying goals" that included an improved immigration system, a strong national defense and conservative family values.
"If the American people hire us, we'll be ready on Day One," Priebus said. "People know what we're against. I want to talk about the things we're for."
The speech was prompted in part by internal pressure from leading Republicans — particularly major donors — who fear the GOP has become too fixated on fighting Obama. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier in the year warned the GOP against becoming "the party of no." He and other prospective 2016 presidential contenders recently have called for Republicans to talk about a more positive agenda, although the GOP has yet to unite behind specific solutions on many issues.
Priebus' speech is not the party's first rebranding effort this cycle.
The RNC commissioned an internal audit following the disappointing 2012 election that called for Republicans to embrace immigration reform and soften their tone on divisive social issues to help attract new voters. The party's conservative flank has largely blocked such efforts over the last two years, however.
"In the year and a half since Reince Priebus released his last rebrand report, Republicans shut down the government and continued to block key Democratic proposals that Americans back, like fixing our broken immigration system, equal pay, raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable," Democratic National Committee spokesman Mike Czin said. "Republicans continue to obstruct progress at every turn, regardless of the cost."
Thursday's speech drew comparisons with the party's "Contract With America," a document released six weeks before the 1994 midterm elections that gave Republicans the House majority and made Newt Gingrich speaker. That blueprint promised specific legislation with a timeline should Republicans take the House majority.
Priebus did not mention the Contract With America in his remarks, which largely avoided detailed policies.
Instead, the chairman outlined popular themes such as strengthening the nation's military, giving parents more educational choices for their children, promoting energy independence and defending the Constitution.
On social issues, he reiterated that the GOP is anti-abortion, but he avoided specifically mentioning his party's opposition to same-sex marriage.
"Marriage is key, not only to financial stability, but also to basic happiness," he said.
Later, he offered a decidedly gentle tone on abortion: "When a woman faces an unplanned pregnancy, society should offer our support and compassion."
Immigration has been a particularly divisive issue for Republicans. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has struggled to recover from conservative opposition after he authored an immigration bill that included a pathway to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally. Priebus emphasized border security in his remarks.
"We must fix our broken immigration system," he said. "We can't reward those who break the laws and punish those who lawfully wait in line."