The Detroit News

Marisa Schultz

Mackinac Island — A panel of prominent GOP politicos and strategists kicked off the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference cautioning about divisions within the political party and urging it to soften its tone.

Fred Davis, ad man for Gov. Rick Snyder’s “one tough nerd” campaign in 2010, said he is worried about the split between traditional Republicans and the tea party movement.

“A divided party is not going to win,” said Davis, chairman of founder of Strategic Perception Inc., who was also the creator of Pete Hoekstra’s Chinese-themed 2012 Super Bowl ad for U.S. Senate that was panned as racially insensitive.

The panelists highlighted the tensions within the Republican Party that are playing out at the biennial confab as tea party activists launch challenges to Michigan incumbent politicians, non-interventionists battle the more hawkish wing on U.S. foreign wars and party leaders weigh how much they can undermine Obamacare, the president’s signature health care plan.

Davis and other panelists warned the tone of Republican candidates matter and political hopefuls need to work harder to overcome perceptions they are “mean,” “heartless” and “rich.” Fred Wszolek, GOP strategist who works for Attorney General Bill Schuette, said the party is “mumbling” and not united about what it stands for aside from jettisoning Obamacare.

He warned some candidates with “terrible” skills in an era of 24-hour surveillance have been making it more difficult for the party. “I wish they would just fake a heart attack and throw themselves down on the floor,” Wszolek said, “because the Democrats have gotten very skilled on capitalizing (on) one person’s gaffes.”

On Friday, House Republicans voted for the 42nd time to eliminate Obamacare, this time as a condition to fund the government beyond Sept. 30, when money runs out and the government faces shutdown. Democrats have chided the party for playing politics with the nation’s economy on a bill the president will veto. All nine Michigan House Republicans members voted to defund the health care law.

Jeff Larson, former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, told the audience Republicans need to be realistic.

“We are not going to win the battle of defunding Obamacare or shutting down the government,” Larson said. “… People have to realize that we really only control the House of Representatives.”

Dave Doyle, a former Michigan GOP chairman, noted the party can appeal to a younger audience and broader populations by softening its language on issues such as gay marriage.

“We can still be successful by holding to your principles. You just have to take a different tone when you are talking,” Doyle said.

Anne Hathaway, former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, said since the 2012 presidential election, the party is doing better on grassroots activism. But she acknowledged Republicans should be worried if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.

“It’s scary,” Hathway said of the movement to elect the first woman president. “I believe it could be another phenomenon election.”

Originally posted by The Detroit News

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