Call it a quick slapdown — and an indication of a likely split within the Republican Party between those who want to continue to use the rhetoric used in the 2012 Presidential election and those who feel it’s time for a major change.
Yesterday defeated Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney got much attention and raised some eyebrows by basically re-affirming what he said in the (in)famous 47% video: he claimed that the reason Barack Obama was re-elected was because Obama offered “gifts” to key constituencies which Romney essentially said were women, minorities and young people. There was little in Romney’s interview that indicated a deeper analysis of why the Republican Party lost or any suggestion that Romney or the GOP erred in the Presidential campaign, its execution or strategy.
This was a re-stating of Romney’s comments during the campaign and a narrative by many conservative new and old media critics who’ve repeated “free stuff” as a mantra — precisely the kind of demonizing and dissing of segments of voters perceived to be wary of the GOP for a host of other non-free-stuff reasons. The suggestion: part of America (those who support Republicans) are successful and producers, and those who don’t (those who support Democrats) are unsuccessful and moochers. Many — including many Republicans — now believe this kind of approach will be political poison for the Republican Party which needs to try to appeal to and woo potential constituencies, not insult or belittle them.
One of the key Republican figures who moved swiftly to distance himself from Romney’s analysis and try and distance the GOP from Romney’s dismissive remarks is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who many believe has 2016 political aspirations of his own:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal forcefully rejected Mitt Romney’s claim that he lost because of President Barack Obama’s “gifts” to minorities and young voters.
Asked about the failed GOP nominee’s reported comments on a conference call with donors earlier Wednesday, the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association became visibly agitated.
“Visibily agitated” is a sign that some GOPers really want to move on and start to expand the party’s coalition not berate or belittle those that didn’t vote for Mitt Romney:
“No, I think that’s absolutely wrong,” he said at a press conference that opened the RGA’s post-election meeting here. “Two points on that: One, we have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent. We need to go after every single vote.
“And, secondly, we need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American Dream, which is to be in the middle class, which is to be able to give their children an opportunity to be able to get a great education. … So, I absolutely reject that notion, that description. I think that’s absolutely wrong.”
He reiterated the points for emphasis.
“I don’t think that represents where we are as a party and where we’re going as a party,” he said. “That has got to be one of the most fundamental takeaways from this election: If we’re going to continue to be a competitive party and win elections on the national stage and continue to fight for our conservative principles, we need two messages to get out loudly and clearly: One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the votes, and secondly, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream. Period. No exceptions.”
What Jindal says is not political rocket science. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Dick Morris may not agree with his blunt comments, but serious analysts such as University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato and other thoughtful versus talk radio type analysts share Jindal’s view of the GOP: if it wants to thrive and even survive nationally, it must expand its tent and compete to get more voters inside its tent. And that is not offering “gifts” but making the case that Republicans are their friends and can offer policies relevant to their dreams and lives.
How wrong did Jindal seemingly find Romney’s comments. THIS WRONG:
Then, without prompting, Jindal circled back to the topic as the press conference wrapped up.
Considered a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he blamed Romney’s defeat last week on his failure to outline a vision for where he wanted to take the country.
“Gov. Romney’s an honorable person that needs to be thanked for his many years of public service, but his campaign was largely about his biography and his experience,” he said. “And it’s a very impressive biography and very impressive set of experiences. But time and time again, biography and experience is not enough to win an election. You have to have a vision. You have to connect your policies to the aspirations of the American people. I don’t think the campaign did that, and as a result this became a contest between personalities. And you know what? Chicago won that.”
And, on this issue, many (including many Republicans) will conclude Jindal won this argument.
UPDATED: Hot Air’s Allahpundit:
That’s the sound of a man who’s running in 2016 and who has a better ear than Mitt Romney for how to talk to middle-class voters. If you buy the makers-versus-takers clientelism explanation, the GOP really might as well not field candidates in national elections going forward. In an age of fiscal crisis, it’ll never keep deficit hawks in the party fold by trying to out-”gift” Democrats; either the party will fracture or the crisis will hit and there won’t be any money for “gifts” anyway. There are three big reasons why Romney lost, I think, and none of them are about gifts. First, people just … didn’t like him that much. His favorable numbers improved towards the end after the Denver debate, but at best he was at rough parity with Obama…
….Second, he got out-organized — badly. We’ve been over this already to some extent in wallowing over how ORCA failed and how Romney’s pollsters misread the electorate, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. Every day for the past week, some dispiriting new news story has appeared describing how Obama’s campaign team was doing something smarter or cheaper or more efficiently(!) than Mitt’s team. Here’s a NYT piece about Team O developing its own data-driven TV ratings system based on political leanings (“the Optimizer”) so that it could make more targeted ad buys. Here’s one about Team O hiring a “dream team” of behavioral scientists to help them figure out little things they could do that might encourage irregular voters to actually go down to the polling place. (Yes, it’s a little creepy.) Here’s one about Obama’s Super PAC using online media to maximize the number of views its videos got at a fraction of the cost Republican groups incurred to air their stuff on traditional media. I almost prefer to think that the election result was a demographic fait accompli because that hurts less than thinking Team Mitt and conservative groups might have left a winning margin out on the field simply because they didn’t know how to leverage it into turnout.
Third, I’m echoing other conservative writers in saying this — Ramesh Ponnuru, Ross Douthat, and Reihan Salam, for starters — but the GOP needs a more dynamic pitch to working families, a.k.a. the middle class. That’s what Jindal’s rejection of Romney is all about. “Class” talk tends to make righties nervous for good reason; coming from the left, it’s almost always a prelude to calls for redistribution. But it’s a useful way to define people whose lives are consumed with familiar problems of everyday life — work, pay, debt, tuition, gas prices. Address those basic concerns and they’ll pay attention. Besides, if the GOP is doomed under normal demographic metrics like race and gender, then it urgently needs to try to reshape how voters define themselves. Emphasize the middle class and you can compete across demographics that might otherwise view you coolly.
UPDATE II: John Avlon on Romney:
Romney’s comments about his opponent’s “old playbook,” as he called it, again revived a dystopian scenario conservatives have been warning about since the New Deal, where Democrats “buy” a permanent majority and undermine democracy at the cost of the productive class. Using this old myth to explain his defeat illustrates again Romney’s disconnect from modern America. He views growing groups—young voters and particularly young women, and Hispanics—as outside special interests, and not as an essential part of the fabric of America.
And it shows the mind of a man who believes that everything is for sale—including, or especially, votes. This is consistent with what I always felt was the most accurate criticism of Romney: that he approached politics as a salesman, offering every group a different pitch. From that perspective, it’s easy to see how he could complain about government as a competing salesman, cobbling together constituencies with “gifts”—which sound perilously close to “bribes” in this context.
A final point: President Obama backing the DREAM Act or contraception coverage is not a nakedly political gesture, it is a matter of policy difference. Addressing the needs and desires of people is not a bribe or a government gift to be exchanged for a vote. It is part of the purpose of representative government as conservative forefather Edmund Burke himself once envisioned: “Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.”
Romney’s distance from this perspective about government shows how far the conservative conversation has drifted from original principles. His impulse to rationalize defeat as victory for liberal special-interest bribery shows again that it is probably best for the country that he was not elected president this November.
NOTE: There was an error in the first version of this post that has since been corrected. We regret the error.
UPDATE III: NBC’s First Read puts this perfectly into perspective and doesn’t mince words:
*** Why Romney’s “gifts” explanation is laughable: When you think about it, Romney’s explanation for Obama’s victory is laughable — the president won because he successfully delivered to his voters. Isn’t that what politicians and presidents are supposed to do? In addition, Romney’s “gifts” rationale doesn’t explain why he lost Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, states with older and whiter populations. What’s particularly striking here: Jindal’s criticism. He was the first Republican to step up here, and it’s an easy brave moment if you’re an aspiring 2016er. A softball to hit out of the park. Romney, sounding more bitter than big in those comments, is giving plenty of aspiring Republican leaders to now use this moment to distinguish themselves from Romney. Watch for a bunch of folks on the GOP side to pile on actually.