ABC, CBS Blame Conservative Social Positions for GOP Misfortunes

On ABC’s World News Saturday, and the same day’s CBS Evening News, correspondents suggested that conservative positions on social issues were responsible for the Republican party’s recent electoral misfortunes, as the two programs filed stories about an appearance in Arlington by Jeb Bush, Eric Cantor and Mitt Romney as part of an effort to rebuild the party’s appeal. ABC cited a recent ABC News / Washington Post poll showing only 21 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans, while CBS cited a Pew Research poll finding the number had dropped from 30 percent in 2004 to 23 percent currently.

After a soundbite of Jeb Bush explaining that Republicans needed to spend more time "listening," "learning," and "upgrading our message," ABC’s Rachel Martin contended that "That means moving hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage to the side, and shifting the focus to health care, education and the economy."

And, ignoring the fact that a substantial number of moderate House Democrats have taken conservative positions on issues like guns and abortion to win in their own conservative leaning districts, CBS’s Kimberly Dozier more directly charged that conservative positions on such issues by Republicans had hurt the party: "The trio notably avoided controversial touch stones like gun rights or abortion, which are blamed for driving away moderates and independents." Notably, 65 House Democrats recently sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder stating their opposition to a new assault weapons ban.

But in looking at the results of the ABC poll, one finds that, while 51 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, with 48 percent opposed; when asked whether they believed stricter enforcement of current laws or the passage of new laws would be more effective in reducing crime, 61 percent answered that "enforcing existing laws" would be more effective.

And while the ABC poll found that 35 percent of Americans choose to identify themselves as Democrats with only 21 percent identifying as Republicans; 35 percent identify as conservative while only 23 percent identify as liberal.

Back to ABC’s report, after noting that "There was unified opposition to President Obama's stimulus plan" from Republicans, Martin reminded viewers about Rush Limbaugh’s desire for President Obama to fail, without explaining Limbaugh’s belief that the country would be harmed if Obama is successful in passing his agenda:

RACHEL MARTIN: But recently, the GOP has been saying a lot of no. There was unified opposition to President Obama's stimulus plan.

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: What characterizes the first 100 days is-

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: -taxes too much-

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: -spends too much-

JOHN BOEHNER, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: -and it borrows too much from our kids and grandkids.

MARTIN: And a conservative conference cheered Rush Limbaugh when he said-

RUSH LIMBAUGH: I want Barack Obama to fail.

Below is a complete transcript of the relevant story from the May 2 World News Saturday on ABC, followed by that May 2 CBS Evening News:

#From the May 2 World News Saturday:

DAVID MUIR: We turn now to Washington this evening, where top Republicans have launched an urgent effort to revitalize their beleaguered party. The party was dealt a new blow this week when Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania jumped parties. And in the latest ABC News poll, just 21 percent of Americans say they identify themselves as Republicans. That’s the fewest in any ABC News poll in 25 years. Here’s Rachel Martin.

RACHEL MARTIN: It was billed as a townhall meeting with big GOP names, but it felt more like a therapy session for conservatives in crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1 IN AUDIENCE: As Republicans, we’ve got to give Americans something to say yes to. We should stand strong, stay faithful to what we firmly believe, and go forward, but have a message that includes all Americans.

MITT ROMNEY: All I can say to that is amen.

MARTIN: But recently, the GOP has been saying a lot of no. There was unified opposition to President Obama’s stimulus plan.

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: What characterizes the first 100 days is-

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: -taxes too much-

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: -spends too much-

JOHN BOEHNER, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: -and it borrows too much from our kids and grandkids.

MARTIN: And a conservative conference cheered Rush Limbaugh when he said-

RUSH LIMBAUGH: I want Barack Obama to fail.

FORMER GOVERNOR JEB BUSH (R-FL): It’s time for us to listen first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit.

MARTIN: That means moving hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage to the side, and shifting the focus to health care, education and the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: The Republican party needs to go back to its principles of personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility.

MARTIN: For the most part, the people gathered here today were members of the GOP party faithful. But the real question is: Will this new message resonate far beyond the Republican party? A party that lost one of its last remaining moderate Senators this week.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (D-PA): I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic party.

RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW: That conservative core is absolutely necessary for Republican success, but it’s not enough. It’s not sufficient. And Republicans have to find a way to reach beyond it while keeping it.

MARTIN: For now, Republicans say they have to listen and learn, so that once again they can lead. Rachel Martin, ABC News, Arlington, Virginia.

#From the May 2 CBS Evening News:

JEFF GLOR: In Virginia today, Republicans are regrouping. Following two serious setbacks in the last two national elections, Kimberly Dozier tells us prominent members of the GOP are meeting to retool their message and plot their comeback.

KIMBERLY DOZIER: It’s no accident this looks like a campaign stop. Leading Republicans came here to figure out why they lost the last election, and to try and make sure they don’t lose the next one. It was standing room only at Arlington’s Pie-Tanza’s Pizza on a Saturday morning, but GOP membership is in freefall. A Pew Research Center survey found that fewer than a quarter of those polled call themselves Republicans. That’s down from 30 percent in 2004. Just this past week, the party lost longtime Senator Arlen Specter, and a congressional seat in New York. This was a message: We hear you.

FORMER GOVERNOR JEB BUSH: (R-FL): You can’t beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don’t like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that.

DOZIER: And they.have to come up with alternatives to shape the GOP’s current label as the "party of no" for voting against Democratic policies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN IN AUDIENCE: I just firmly believe that, as Republicans, we’ve got to give Americans something to say yes to. Let’s do it. Let’s make it happen. That’s how we get, that’s how we take this country back.

MITT ROMNEY: All I can say to that is amen.

DOZIER: This new movement is the brainchild of Congressman Eric Cantor, who admits the party has made mistakes in the past.

ERIC CANTOR, HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: No question we could have done a lot better. There’s no question we took our licks, and rightfully so in many instances.

DOZIER: He says this is about coming up with new ideas on the economy, energy, health care, and national security. The trio notably avoided controversial touch stones like gun rights or abortion, which are blamed for driving away moderates and independents. These townhall meetings are about bringing them back. It’s how the GOP turned its fortunes around when it lost to President Clinton in 1992 and came up with the blueprint for what became Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America.

FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Within two years, they recaptured the House and the Senate. Why? Because they engaged in this same kind of conversation.

DOZIER: Their message is: They get it. They lost because the people weren’t getting what they wanted. Now it’s up to the GOP to figure out what that is.