GOP netroots find faults with Reagan group

Members of the conservative netroots community, hungry for a new direction for their party, are expressing skepticism that a newly formed bicameral group of Republicans will help lead the GOP out of the minority.

In theory, Reagan 21 sounds like the perfect sell to conservatives: a collection of House and Senate members pledging their dedication to the fiscal principles of former President Reagan to get back to the basics that built the foundation of the modern Republican Party.

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In practice, the idea has received a lukewarm response in some Republican circles.

“I think the intentions are good, but I seem to remember Reagan being dead,” stated Erick Erickson, editor of RedState.org. “Basically, what it says is ‘We’re completely unoriginal and uninspired, so let’s go back to the old playbook.’”

Erickson stressed the principles behind the group are sound: “I think their heart is in the right place … but they need to re-brand.”

Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), a founding member of the group, said the core principles that Reagan stood for — including individual freedom, free enterprise and common-sense values — are timeless.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), another founding member, urged conservatives not to judge the group too quickly.

 “We are in the very early stages of Reagan 21,” he said. “We are pledging to act.”

Price said the pledge to request no new earmarks, repeal No Child Left Behind, and to work for “real fundamental tax reform” represents noteworthy strides in a new direction.

Erickson also criticized the group’s website, which launched briefly and then was taken down for a redesign.

Patrick Ruffini, former eCampaign director for the Republican National Committee, described the site as “1995 vintage” in a post on his blog: “The only way for someone outside Washington, D.C. to interact with the cause or group you’re launching is through the Web… Your online presence should be the very first thing you think about when launching your group, not the last.”

He indicated that the initial idea was exciting, but added, “The messaging on this is also dramatically off… but for a group committed to ushering in a 21st century political movement, this seems old, strewn with overly formal, self-important language.”

Price said the group plans to reach outside the Beltway to give voters and those running for office a strong group of conservatives to identify with on fiscal matters.

Founding members of the upper chamber are Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

DeMint’s office did not respond to a call for comment while Coburn’s office declined to comment.

Reagan21 currently has no chairman or organizational structure, which critics have pointed out is another problem of the fledgling group.

Edward Morrissey, editor of the right-leaning Captain’s Quarters blog, said he favors the group’s concept though is not convinced it would be an effective tool to fight problems like government overspending.

“Members that are a part of the group are voting the right way on fiscal issues, so I don’t think it’s a re-branding issue,” he said. “I don’t think they are going to get a lot more people until pork begins to be poison at the voting booth.”

Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, suggested in an article posted on the web that lack of staff involvement in the initial planning stages and the ensuing launch has caused a lot of the skepticism from inside and outside of the Hill.

“Members insist on writing their own bylaws… They want to come up with their legislative initiatives,” Weyrich wrote. He added that staff was not permitted to be involved in the discussions leading up to the launch, which was confirmed by several sources on and off Capitol Hill.

“Unless these members involve competent staff, they will fail,” he stated, citing groups like Hensarling’s RSC and the Senate equivalent as evidence of a functional entity made efficient by talented staff.

Asked whether the group was launched prematurely, Hensarling responded, “Not for me it wasn’t.”

Posed the same question, Price said members were eager to get the message out.

 “We have been meeting for six months plus and it is tough to get momentum rolling,” he said. “We set a target date and decided to roll with it, not regardless but almost regardless of other [factors].”

Price added that some of the details were on hold because members were unsure whether the group would be classified as a 501 (c)3 or 501 (c)4 non-profit designation or a leadership Political Action Committee.

“The legal structure will determine what relationship [members] can have with the group,” according to Price.

Hensarling agreed that mechanics needed to be worked out in the coming months but claimed that the group would have a lasting presence.

Hensarling will host a breakfast Thursday at the Capitol Club featuring former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), a longtime conservative and former presidential candidate.