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RNC Chairman Duncan Wants To Keep Job

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Republican Party is still absorbing last month's election defeat. But the man who oversaw the party during the campaign put out a YouTube video this week saying the party is still fundamentally sound.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Mr. MIKE DUNCAN (Chairman, Republican National Committee): They said the Republican brand had lost its luster. Well, I'm here to report that when it comes to the Republican National Committee, they were very wrong.

INSKEEP: That's Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan who announced in a video this week that he is seeking to keep his position. The party has also put up a Web site called "Republican for a Reason." It asks Republicans to give the party advice, and people have posted thousands of responses. Some call for change, while others urge the party to hold to its principles, like the note that reads, "Go all the way to the right and stay there." We visited Mike Duncan's office to talk about the debate within the Republican Party.

Mr. DUNCAN: Campaigns are won on ideas, and we have to make sure that people understand the values and principles of the Republican Party. And we have to articulate those better.

INSKEEP: I've printed out some letters from the Web site. Patrick(ph) from Bellevue, Washington, writes, obviously we lost the 2008 presidential election in large part because people believed the Democrats would handle the economy better. I actually agree - this person who writes as a Republican. This is one issue that I think the Democrats have a better handle on. The GOP tends to support trickledown economics.

Is this letter writer correct in that the public at large feels that the Democrats - not just that there was a problem with the economy under President Bush, but that the Democrats actually have a better handle on what to do in an economic situation...

Mr. DUNCAN: First, I don't believe that the Democrats have a better handle on what to do. I do think that there was a perception during this campaign that we'd been in charge for the last eight years and that we were being punished. Because when you had the recession and the economic downturn, that's when the polling numbers went the other way, and that's when we started losing some of our supporters. But the truth is the Republican philosophy is a philosophy that works. The idea of taxing your way out of a recession has been rejected by every president since Jack Kennedy. You just don't do that. And by making sure that we return more of the money to the American people, we stimulate the economy.

INSKEEP: David Frum, the conservative writer, had another take on that. He was saying the Republican Party is and should be the party of lower taxes. But once you establish that, you want to ask people what concerns them. And if people say, what I'm really worried about is health care, you can't respond to them, well, I'm going to keep your taxes low, because you just seem irrelevant to that voter. Has the party missed some of the key issues, do you think?

Mr. DUNCAN: I think communication is always something that we have to do better as a party. We have to articulate our ideas in ways that people understand on a daily basis. And that's one of the things that we're going to have to work on going forward. I'm going to be announcing soon that we're going to have a center for ideas here at the Republican Party.

INSKEEP: Center for ideas?

Mr. DUNCAN: Center for the Republican renewal. When we're out of the White House, we have to help stimulate new ways of thinking, new ideas, new words to help us communicate with the American people. And we're going to be announcing that soon.

INSKEEP: When you say we need to articulate our ideas better, what that translates to in my head is we don't need to change what we believe, we just need to be better tactically in order to win elections.

Mr. DUNCAN: Well, you always want - change is a part of life. And accelerating change is part of what we do on a daily basis. So there are always new ideas. And we look to the governors and we look to legislative leaders and members of Congress to help us bring those new ideas in. But the basic principles that you have, the principles that the party stands on, are timeless.

INSKEEP: Another letter here from the Web site that you guys put up. Jerry(ph) from Sisters, Oregon, writes, the Republican Party simply has to get a little distance between itself and the religious right.

Mr. DUNCAN: We embrace lots of different people in the Republican Party. As chairman, I've had the chance to travel in 46 different states, and I can tell you that every state is different. And we have a lot of people who are Republican for lots of different reasons. And that's why we have this Web site. We think our values resonate better with the American people.

INSKEEP: Although Jerry from Sisters, Oregon, I think is suggesting that people feel excluded if you're too close to one group, the religious right, as he describes it.

Mr. DUNCAN: I do my best to include everyone in the Republican Party. I try to make sure that we have an opportunity to hear all voices. And part of what we're doing with "Republican for a Reason" is to make sure that we hear those voices.

INSKEEP: When he says the Republican Party simply has to get a little distance between itself and the religious right, is there an assumption that this person has that is mistaken? Is there an assumption this person has that is wrong about the way the Republican Party is set up, the influence that different people have?

Mr. DUNCAN: The Republican Party is a party of a big tent. We welcome people of different ideas and different philosophies in the Republican Party. And as chairman, I've tried to do that.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.

Mr. DUNCAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Mike Duncan is chairman of the Republican National Committee, and he's seeking to keep his job. In that interview we mentioned the views of another conservative, the writer David Frum. And we will get his views on the Republican future tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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