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GOP Hopes To Be 'A Party Concerned About Every American'


We're joined now by Mark McKinnon. He's a Republican strategist, former advisor to President George W. Bush and 2008 Republican candidate John McCain. Mr. McKinnon is also a co-founder of the group No Labels. He joins us from Colorado.

Mr. McKinnon, thanks for being with us.

MARK MCKINNON: Hey, good morning. How are you?

SIMON: Fine. Thanks, sir. I think this phrase that Governor Jindal uttered the other day is getting quoted a lot, where he said Republicans have to, quote, "stop being the stupid party." But every Republican member of Congress and those Republican Senate candidates that made verbal gaffes won a primary to get there. So in the end, is a complaint about Republican leaders or voters?

MCKINNON: Well, it's an overall problem. But when you spend enough time in the desert, you start to figure out how to find water. And, you know, I remember this was the same case in 2004 and Democrats - everybody was talking about how Republican ascendancy would be going on for the next couple of generations.

So, but the problem for Republicans is that it's, you know, a lot has happened around us and the party hasn't evolved and seems stuck in time. And that time seems to be like the '50s. And we can't be just about obstruction and blocking ideas. We need to be about construction and proposing ideas.

SIMON: Like?

MCKINNON: Well, for starters, we need to get to the table on immigration. That's just what I call table stakes. You know, I remember George W. Bush in the mid-'90s talking about education reform and immigration reform and compassionate conservatism. And those are the kind of ideas and vision that attracted independents and conservative Democrats like me to the Republican Party.

So it can't just be about process and trying to fix electoral districts and that sort of thing. And it's not just about technology. It's got to be about an agenda and ideas, and a vision and a bigger plan.

SIMON: Let me follow up on immigration, Mr. McKinnon 'cause there's a story in The Washington Post this morning that a bipartisan group of senators - three Democrats, three Republicans - are close to some kind of an agreement. What might you say to Latino voters who might say to the Republican Party: You only started caring about this when you saw you needed our votes to win elections?

MCKINNON: Well, I'd say you go back to Ronald Reagan who created, you know, the first immigration plan which created citizenship for three million immigrants. And then you look at George W. Bush and his compassionate conservatism, and he was the first one to really embrace immigration reform in a really proactive way. So this is an extension really of what Republicans started 20 years ago.

And with a, you know, a brief period where I think it was very problematic, where we had some nominees who are saying the wrong things, and the party was going in the wrong direction. But I think with, you know, with Marco Rubio and others, it's headed back on the right track.

SIMON: Can a Republican running for office these days support same-sex marriage without getting lambasted?

MCKINNON: Oh, absolutely. I mean I think that, you know, to be philosophically consistent, Republicans, if they're going to talk about keeping government, you know, out of our lives, they have to keep it out of the bedrooms too. So I think that immigration - that gay rights is absolutely philosophically consistent with Republican values and ought to be. And, you know, I think that the bend of history is headed that direction and Republicans need to get on board. I think 20 years from now, we'll look back on this as we did, like, you know, women's voting rights and slavery. I mean, it's absolutely something we need to do.

SIMON: Twenty-five seconds left, this is your business. Give us a bumper sticker phrase for the Republican Party you'd like to see.

MCKINNON: I think we want to see a party that embraces entrepreneurship among immigrants who are, you know, the core of our society that helped build this country; that we need to embrace civil rights for everybody, and a pro-growth agenda that creates a bottom-up system where people can succeed on their own right and without government help.

SIMON: We're running out of space. Mark McKinnon, Republican strategist, founder of the group No Label, thanks so much.

MCKINNON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.