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Broad Appeal: Cantor ponders the GOP’s future
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Broad Appeal: Cantor ponders the GOP’s future

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Eric Cantor believes the Republican Party has much work to do.

“We have to broaden our appeal,” he said during a visit last week with the Times-Dispatch Editorial staff. The House majority leader, a Henrico Republican, said his party must make consistent and concerted efforts to improve its standing with women and minorities. That comes as no surprise to anyone who has glanced at the exit polls from the past few elections.

Republicans, he said, need to change the perception that they don’t care about everyday Americans, a task made tougher by Democrats perpetually promising bigger handouts and more government mandates, as if there are no costs in life.

Cantor recalled his father’s warning that it’s often tough being a conservative because you have to explain well-reasoned policies that actually work.

Nuance doesn’t always make a great first impression — and can be drowned out in a world awash in fast phrases, easy money and unexamined pitches.

The GOP, Cantor said, needs to be able to answer a basic question: “How do we address the fundamental problems that people have?”

In an extended era of flat wages and anemic job growth, he said his party should focus on “upward mobility and opportunity,” with an emphasis on practical matters that can stretch the family budget and juice the U.S. economy, such as increased domestic energy production, online education, college affordability and low taxes.

“We’re about individual empowerment. Everyone needs a fair shot.”

President Obama, he said, is “all about people having a fair share.”

That’s one of those nuanced differences. Cantor’s fair shot suggests people striving to move ahead. Obama’s fair share implies people waiting for what’s handed to them.

That difference may provide an opening for Republicans as Obama’s big-government agenda appears to sink beneath the Affordable Care Act’s irresponsible promises and the relentlessly sluggish American economy.

Cantor said one of his priorities will be incremental improvements in the country’s broken immigration system, beginning with the Kids Act, which would create a path to citizenship for people who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children. “We should not be holding kids liable for the acts of their parents.”

He also said that he does not expect a 2014 repeat of this year’s partial government shutdown. He is not optimistic about reaching a grand bargain on the federal budget, in part because of Democrats’ insistence on more tax increases, but he is hopeful that a deal can be struck to lift some of the sequester cuts, especially those hitting the Pentagon, in exchange for an equal amount of longer-term savings in areas such as six-day postal service and federal employee benefits.

Cantor said he has spent a lot of time thinking about ways to revive the Republican Party in Virginia and beyond. It’s important:

“To be a country with wealth creation and opportunity, not redistribution, America needs a Republican Party.”

brayner@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6073

Twitter: @bobrayner

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