Former NJ gov: Why can’t GOP get along?
By ANGELA DELLI SANTI
The Associated Press
February 3, 2009
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – The national Republican Party can repair its tarnished image and recapture its fractured following by focusing on pocketbook principles while downplaying differences on divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage, party moderate and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman said.
Speaking to a predominantly college crowd at Rutgers University’s Douglass College Campus Center Monday night, Whitman admonished members of her party for allowing intraparty squabbles to divide them politically and drive away voters.
“In the last election cycle, we took a beating in two of the largest constituent groups that we have , women and moderates,” Whitman told a capacity crowd of 225. “We lost young people overwhelmingly to Barack Obama. If that doesn’t tell the Republican Party it has some challenges in front of it, I don’t think anything will.”
Nationally, Republicans relinquished 178 House seats, 14 Senate seats and seven governorships to Democrats in the four years ending in 2008, Whitman said. The party also ceded 428 seats in state legislatures during those four years, and saw nine legislatures flip from solid Republican to Democratic control.
Despite the apparent implosion of the party, Whitman said she sees signs that GOP leaders have gotten the message. She lauded the selection of Michael Steele as Republican National Committee chairman, saying she believes Steele will help rebuild a party of inclusion. He was involved in Whitman’s Republican Leadership Council, a political advocacy group founded to help bring moderates into the party.
She talked of the election of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president, as an exciting time in American politics and said she sees opportunities in Obama’s call for bipartisan cooperation on key issues.
“The big issues, the really controversial issues … took bipartisan cooperation. That’s how we get the best legislation,” she said, naming welfare reform and major environmental legislation as examples.
She urged Republican candidates, like those who will be running for New Jersey governor in November, to stay focused on fiscal issues that are weighing heavily on voters’ minds: taxes, jobs, how to pay for their children’s education.
Whitman, who has long been at odds with the Christian conservative base of the Republican Party, noted the November election results even though nearly 2 million more Christian conservatives voted in 2008 than in 2004.
“That tells you it’s fine to get the base, but it’s not enough,” Whitman said. “It’s not enough to be a national party.”
New Jersey’s only female governor and the last Republican to be elected to that office in the Garden State, Whitman left office during her second term in 2001 when President George W. Bush appointed her to head the Environmental Protection Agency. She later was the target of heavy criticism for her assurances that the air around the World Trade Center site was safe to breathe in the days following the 9/11 terror attacks.
In 2005, she released a book, “It’s My Party Too,” which criticized the Bush administration for divisive electoral policies.