WASHINGTON, D.C. -- House budget chair Paul Ryan told a gathering of conservatives here Saturday that the right needs to offer a smarter, more prudent and constructive opposition to President Barack Obama, fighting him on some issues but engaging him on others, and accepting even tiny victories when they present themselves.
Gov. Scott Walker echoed some of those same themes in a speech and interview at the same event.
"We've got to offer a big, bold, positive, optimistic alternative to the president's agenda. Just being no, just being a stopgap isn't enough," said Walker in the interview. "You'd be hard-pressed to ask most Americans what the . . . Republican agenda coming out of the federal government is that's relevant to their life."
Walker spoke in the interview after addressing a conference on the future of conservatism.
Ryan and Walker were two of the featured speakers at the event, which comes as Republicans are asking themselves how to provide a more effective counterweight to the Democratic president, having failed last fall to take back the White House or Senate.
Ryan, part of the losing 2012 GOP ticket, is preaching "prudence" to his party -- not a typical rallying cry of today's conservatives, but one that Ryan suggested is an underappreciated conservative principle.
Ryan talked Saturday about picking the right battles, accepting small victories when bigger ones aren't within reach, being smarter tactically, and tolerating internal differences without lapsing into public infighting.
"I'm not saying we should be excessively cautious. When we see an opening however small we should take it," Ryan told an audience of several hundred at a D.C. hotel.
The Janesville congressman pitched "prudence" to his audience as a means of opposing Obama more effectively, not diluting conservative principles.
"He wants to perpetuate progressive government for at least a generation. Why? Because he thinks that's the right thing to do," Ryan said of Obama.
"To do that he needs to delegitimize the Republican Party and House Republicans in particular. He'll try to divide us with phony emergencies and bogus deals. He'll try to get us to fight with each other -- to question each other's motives -- so we don't challenge him . . . We can't let that happen. We have to be smart. We have to show prudence . . . We can't get rattled."
He said Republicans should not be baited into "playing the villain" in Obama's "morality play."
In his own speech, Walker said that despite poor results in the presidential and Senate elections, Republicans should be optimistic because of the party's recent success in state elections.
"The conservative movement more often than not comes from state and local government, not from Washington," he said.
He also urged Republicans to be optimistic in tone, talk about their ideas in ways that are more relevant to people's lives, and not be afraid to stick their necks out.
In an interview afterward, Walker said:
"Having leaders here (in D.C.) who just object to everything, it becomes almost a knee-jerk reaction. (People) go, 'Oh, there they go again,' versus, 'We'll work with you on some things, but where you're fundamentally wrong, that's where we're going to stand up and object.' I think that's much more powerful."
Walker said GOP candidate Mitt Romney's big failing was trying to make the election a pure referendum on Obama without offering a more positive agenda of his own.
"I don't think most people could identify what he was for. You can't just run a referendum on the opponent, particularly on the incumbent. You've got to offer some viable alternative. It's the same problem Tommy (Thompson) had in Wisconsin when they branded him as 'not caring about us anymore.' There was no alternative to say, 'Yeah Tommy (does care) and here's what he's going to do for you as senator.' All they thought was, 'Hey, he's saying he's Tommy and don't you remember me?' Well, a lot of voters didn't remember him, and those that did, didn't know how that translated to where he was going forward."
During panel discussions at the event, some conservative analysts faulted their side for "choking off debate" within the GOP and demanding too much ideological conformity. Some faulted the party for failing to more aggressively court voters outside the party's base. Some urged the party to speak more directly to bread-and-butter, populist concerns such as the cost of education and health care, and chastised the GOP for using harsh and unfriendly rhetoric on issues such as immigration. Some complained that with a few exceptions, Republican members of Congress wasn't generating new policy ideas.
(c)2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.