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GOP shows signs of bending after election defeat

Wednesday - 12/26/2012, 12:58pm  ET

By THOMAS BEAUMONT and JOSH LEDERMAN
Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - For years, Republicans have adhered fiercely to their bedrock conservative principles, resisting Democratic calls for tax hikes, comprehensive immigration reform and gun control. Now, seven weeks after an electoral drubbing, some party leaders and rank-and-file alike are signaling a willingness to bend on all three issues.

What long has been a nonstarter for Republicans _ raising tax rates on wealthy Americans _ is now backed by GOP House Speaker John Boehner in his negotiations with President Barack Obama to avert a potential fiscal crisis. Party luminaries, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have started calling for a wholesale shift in the GOP's approach to immigration after Hispanic voters shunned Republican candidates. And some Republicans who previously championed gun rights now are opening the door to restrictions following a schoolhouse shooting spree earlier this month.

"Put guns on the table. Also, put video games on the table. Put mental health on the table," Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said last week. Other prominent Republicans echoed him in calling for a sweeping review of how to prevent tragedies like the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Among those open to a re-evaluation of the nation's gun policies were Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

"You've got to take all these things into consideration," Grassley said.

And yet, the head of the National Rifle Association, silent for a week after the Newtown shootings, has proposed staffing schools with armed police, making clear the NRA, which tends to support the GOP, will continue pushing for fewer gun restrictions, not more.

Meanwhile, Boehner's attempt to get his own members on board with a deficit-reduction plan that would raise taxes on incomes of more than $1 million failed last week, exposing the reluctance of many in the Republican caucus to entertain more moderate fiscal positions.

With Republican leaders being pulled at once to the left and to the right, it's too soon to know whether the party that emerges from this identity crisis will be more or less conservative than the one that was once so confident about the 2012 elections. After all, less than two months have passed since the crushing defeat of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who moved far to the right during the primary season and, some in the party say, lost the general election as a result.

But what's increasingly clear is that the party is now engaged in an uncomfortable and very public fight over whether its tenets, still firmly held within the party's most devout ranks, conflict with the views of Americans as a whole.

Many Republicans recognize that to remain relevant with voters whose views are changing, they too must change.

"We lost the election because we were out of touch with the American people," said John Weaver, a senior adviser to past presidential candidates John McCain, the GOP nominee in 2008, and Jon Huntsman, who sought the nomination this year.

The polling suggests as much.

While Republican candidates for years have adamantly opposed tax increases on anyone, an Associated Press-GfK poll earlier this month found roughly half of all Americans supported allowing George W. Bush-era tax cuts to expire on those earning more than $250,000 a year.

Most GOP candidates _ Romney among them _ also long have opposed allowing people in the country illegally to get an eventual path to citizenship. But exit polls from the Nov. 6 election showed most voters favored allowing people working in the U.S. illegally to stay.

And gun control has for decades been anathema to Republicans. But a Washington Post/ABC News poll published last week, following the Connecticut shooting, showed 54 percent of Americans now favor stronger restrictions.

This is the backdrop as Republicans undergo a period of soul-searching after this fall's electoral shellacking. Romney became the fifth GOP nominee in six elections to lose the national popular vote to the Democratic candidate. Republicans also shed seats in their House majority and lost ground to majority Democrats in the Senate.

Of particular concern is the margin of loss among Hispanics, a group Obama won by about 70 percent to 30 percent.

It took only hours after the loss for national GOP leaders to blame Romney for shifting to the right on immigration _ and signal that the party must change.

Jindal, a prospective 2016 presidential contender, was among the Republicans calling for a more measured approach by the GOP. And even previously hard-line opponents of immigration reform _ like conservative talk show host Sean Hannity _ said the party needs to get over its immigration stance, which heavily favors border security over other measures.

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