THE NCNA GETS TO WORK…. The newly unveiled National Council for a New America officially launched yesterday, hosting a town-hall like forum for 100 people at a strip-mall pizza shop in a D.C. suburb. Leading the discussion were House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R). I’ve read several reports on the event, and I’m still not sure what the point was.

The initiative reflects the emerging consensus of Republican leaders on how to take on Obama and rebuild their party. Worried that the GOP is being portrayed only as the opposition party, prominent Republicans hope to draw attention to their agenda by using well-known figures such as Bush and Romney to tout their ideas. But they don’t believe they need to shift their political views to the left or the right to win.

And therein lies part of the problem. This new initiative is intended to be little more than a fresh coat of paint on a car that no longer runs. There’s some value in a discussion that focuses more on Republican policy than politics — the event reportedly featured very little Obama bashing — but these GOP leaders don’t seem to appreciate the fact that their policies failed miserably and aren’t popular with voters.

There were two angles to yesterday’s event that were of particular interest. First, there were protestors on hand, but they were Republican critics, not Democrats.

[T]he handful of peaceful protesters out front weren’t Democrats — they were conservatives upset over the new group’s agenda and leadership. They brandished signs criticizing McCain, calling the NCNA “RINOs” — Republicans in Name Only — and urging them to push for stricter immigration enforcement.

Improving the party’s image is going to be tricky when the GOP base likes the right-wing reactionary approach just the way it is.

Those were the Republican activists outside. The Republicans inside failed to offer anything in the way of new thoughts. One concerned citizen insisted that “people learn more from listening to Rush Limbaugh than they do in high school or college.” The future of the GOP, indeed.

And second, there were some policy-oriented questions from an obviously Republican-friendly crowd, which spoke to a larger truth. One young person asked what the government can do for people who “have aspirations to college” but can’t afford it “because college expenses have gone up.” Another asked what government can do “to assist small businesses.”

So, at a Republican event with a Republican crowd about the future of Republican ideas, those on hand wanted to hear more about what the government can do for them.

Good luck with that rebranding, guys.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.