Newt Gingrich. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)
Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY
USA TODAY - Republicans are meeting in Boston this week to work on the mechanics of politics - budgets, delegate rules, voter contact techniques - but former House speaker Newt Gingrich told delegates Wednesday that the party first has to figure out what policies it supports, not simply what measures it wants to block.
"We have to get beyond being anti-Obama and we have to reconvince people that you can have hope in America," said Gingrich, who ran unsuccessfully for president last year, told the gathering of party officials. "You don't want to be the anti-left. You want to be the people offering a dramatically better future."
Republicans have "zero" ideas for a health care overhaul, Gingrich said, although they have vowed to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. "You say you're against Obamacare and stop, because that's all you think you need to say."
Instead, he said, "People have to think you are serious about governing and have positive ideas."
Miriam Hellreich, a national committeewoman from Hawaii, said the GOP does have health care proposals, including medical savings accounts, but the party's failure to communicate on health care is "the elephant in the room," she told the gathering. "We keep talking about (Obamacare) and criticizing, but we really haven't gotten the messaging right in terms of what we're for."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who is leading GOP efforts to broaden its appeal, says Republicans need to polish their brand, which he said had long been "unprotected and unpromoted." That means candidates should stop referring to themselves as "conservatives" or "libertarians," Priebus said, and stick with the Republican label.
"The word under your name on the ballot says 'Republican.' And it's about time we as a party started fighting for what the meaning of that word is," he said. Priebus said he imagined a future GOP TV ad: "Hi I'm Jose, I'm a toolmaker here in Milwaukee, and I want to tell you why I'm a Republican.''
The Republican National Committee meets three times yearly to conduct its business and rally the troops. The party chose Boston over Chicago for this week's meeting to show its support in the wake of the April bombing at the Boston Marathon.
Many events during the three-day conference are designed to show the party is implementing its strategy - outlined in a post-election report issued in March - to catch up with Democrats technologically and to highlight Hispanic and female party members.
RNC members also may vote on Priebus' plan to exclude CNN and NBC from sponsoring debates during the presidential primaries unless the networks scrap plans to air programs on possible 2016 Democratic contender Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Significant changes to rules for conducting primaries and selecting convention delegates aren't likely to occur, says Josh Putnam, an expert on party procedure at North Carolina's Davidson College.
The party is likely to eventually reinstate a rule requiring early primary states to award delegates proportionately for the national nominating convention, instead of allowing for winner-take-all delegations, Putnam said. The rule was changed for the party's 2012 national convention, but grass-roots activists have complained, arguing that it excludes the minority voices in the party.