When I sat down last month with Jeff Burton, grassroots director for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, he told me the Republican Party needed to be in an “all-hands-on-deck” mode, gathering input from anyone willing to help. “The best ideas percolate up from the American people to us,” he says in May’s Mover & Shaker interview. “The more people that we get input from, the better policies Congress will promote.” What he couldn’t tell me yet was how he planned to do that. But on Saturday, Cantor, with former governors Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, unveiled the National Council for a New America with a forum at a pizza joint in Arlington. The NCNA plans to hold forums across the country to find exactly those ideas. “This is what we were talking about,” Burton, who helped organize the event, told me today. “Taking our message to the people, hosting these town halls with real people.” The forums’ quick organizational process meant they were still under wraps when the May issue went to perss. But Burton’s interview offers a look at the thinking behind the event. Though the locations of the next forums are still unclear, Burton emphasizes the need to move into new Republican territory:
We need to take our message to the American people, and that means we need to go places where some members of the party haven’t been as comfortable. We need to go into the minority communities and talk to them: talk to them about our vision, what our solutions for their hardships are. We haven’t done that for the last few years and I think its showed. People aren’t going to vote with us and support us if we don’t show up.
The first forum was criticized by some conservative bloggers for being held in Northern Virginia, a Democratic area. Burton said that was in part an organizational issue, as a location close to D.C. allowed all of Cantor’s staff to help with the event. But he reiterated a point he raised in the interview: the GOP needs to talk with all Americans to find the issues they share. “We’re going to talk to everyone—in Republican areas, in Democratic areas,” he said. “We’re going to take it as many places as we can. We want all parties to listen, whether you’re Republicans or Independents or like-minded Democrats, to talk about issues that we agree on rather than issues that we don’t.” Though some have noted that the NCNA’s materials deemphasize so-called “wedge issues” like gay marriage—which Burton chose to call a “values issue”—he says that these will not be dropped but “waved into our every-day thinking wherever they arise, rather than having them separate.” For more insight on the NCNA forums, read the full interview with Burton.