CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stung by an image that it’s too rigidly conservative and too “stupid” about its words and tactics, a somber Republican Party vowed Friday to change its ways.
But the party’s first meeting since the November election featured little public dialogue about how specifically to adjust, or at least tolerate, policies that would have broader appeal, particularly on guns, immigration and social issues. And few wanted to discuss where the conservative and politically difficult tea party movement fit.
The party re-elected Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus, 40, to a new term as chairman, but the talk centered on the need for change.
“Demographic changes in America are changes in the Democrats’ direction. We have to figure out how to make it come our way,” said Ari Fleischer, who was the White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. Fleischer is among several Republican leaders who have spent recent months studying ways to expand the party’s reach.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was more blunt.
“We must stop being the stupid party,” Jindal, a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, told colleagues.
Republicans are still studying how to proceed — as Fleischer put it, they’re in the fourth inning of a nine-inning game — and throughout the party’s winter meeting, which began Wednesday and is to wrap up Saturday, they have been inundated with tactical ideas.
Most involved reaching deeper into communities where the party has had trouble winning votes.
“We are a populist party, and we need to make that clear,” Jindal said.
President Barack Obama won 93 percent of the black vote last fall and 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also lost the women’s vote.
Republicans have to compete on a broader scale, Priebus said. Stop thinking only about “battleground states,” he said, in which polls say Republicans have a chance, though he quickly said of his home state, “We turned a very ‘blue state’ pretty darn red.”
The old red and swing state strategy meant virtually ignoring some of the nation’s biggest states, notably California and New York, during last year’s election.
Priebus also urged the gathering to keep drawing sharp contrasts with Democrats. Obama, he said, has made them “one of the most government-dependent parties that we’ve ever seen in the modern era.”