Speaking at another panel, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said the lesson he learned from the midterm elections was “that there’s a real hunger in this country for competent leadership” but “that it can be done with a degree of civilization that rarely exists in politics today”.
“I hope we can, as a party… be those leaders for the people who are waiting for us,” he added.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who was on the panel with Lee, said the party was failing to inspire young voters and needed to reevaluate how it messaged that demographic “because they’re just buying the propaganda that it’s out there it’s in their classrooms.”
He added that Republicans should stop trying to get attention by saying “crazy” things.
In 2024, Noem, who has generated some presidential hype on the right and comes from the more pro-Trump wing of the party, said the election “will be interesting to watch.”
“I don’t think anyone can predict that right now,” he added.
Another focus of the conference was “electability,” with many Republicans expressing a growing interest in making sure the candidates emerging from the primaries were in the best position to win in November.
Outgoing Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who just wrapped up a term as co-chair of the RGA, has suggested the group could get more involved in the primary going forward. The RGA has been spending on defending incumbents facing the primaries, but may now be considering spending on open bidding.
“Historically, the RGA hasn’t been very involved in the primaries, but that’s also one of the things we’re going to have to look at as we go forward,” Ricketts said.
Republicans here presented a united front on the issues they would seek to address, or continue to address, over the next two years: cut statewide taxes, strengthen law enforcement, and further focus on education and the ” parental rights” – a major theme of the 2022 campaigns. Republicans also discussed expanding job training opportunities in their states.
DeWine, who was nearly 10 points ahead of GOP Senator-elect JD Vance on the same ticket, said the disparity was likely a result of Democrats and independent voters rewarding him for how he handled pandemic politics — which, he said , showed that voters will reward officials for “not being divisive.”
“They want someone to lead, they want someone to bring people together,” she said of the voters. “I don’t think, in general, they want anyone to be divisive. Again, that doesn’t mean they aren’t conservative, but they do want to take action. They want results.”
“As a party, we have to nominate people who can win the general election,” he added. “That doesn’t mean they don’t have principles. But they have to be able to survive a general election. It makes no sense to nominate someone who can’t win a general election. That’s not how we govern, that’s not how we do things.”
The Ohio governor, who has held elected office for more than 40 years, said his fellow Republicans are on the same page right now when it comes to eligibility. “The question is whether it will last,” he said. “But certainly this week, that’s what people understand.”
On Trump’s announcement, DeWine said he didn’t think he would change the math for fellow GOP governors who might seek the presidency
“People who are in politics,” he said, “are always looking for presidential candidates who can win.”
Sununu said Republicans made some major gains last week, namely winning back the House. But with the disappointing results, he said it presents a big opportunity for a recovery.
“I think a lot of people are saying, ‘OK, whether it’s a Trump thing or this extremism thing, we need to move forward,'” he said, adding, “Hopefully, [the message is] sinking into other people like it’s sinking into people here at least. I am already listening and feeling it right now.
As for Trump’s announcement, Sununu said it was barely recorded and didn’t come from a strong point.
“The idea that Trump was going to make an announcement yesterday — and I’ve been proven right, because it’s barely a story — was just stupid,” he said. “He was really inconsiderate. It is clearly from a position of weakness and for his own selfish purposes, whether legal or not. So I just think we have to go that far.