With President Barack Obama’s well-received second inaugural address still fresh in Republican minds, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal articulated a new vision for the GOP Thursday night, calling on the party to “recalibrate the conservative compass” in order to make itself relevant to today’s voters.On paper, the speech — the keynote address at this week’s Republican National Committee winter meeting — was a blunt challenge to Jindal’s own party, which is still smarting from its meltdown in the 2008 and 2012 national elections. In a four-point outline, Jindal laid bare the fundamental weaknesses of the GOP’s message and strategy, and delivered the first real Republican rebuttal to the liberal vision for America that Obama articulated on Monday.
Here are the highlights of Jindal’s argument:
1. “America is not the federal government.” Jindal’s first argument basically calls on Republicans to end their singular focus on federal spending and the deficit, and start talking about other issues.
“A debate about which party can better manage the federal government is a very small and shortsighted debate,” Jindal said. “If our vision is not bigger than that, we do not deserve to win. … We as Republicans have to accept that government number-crunching – even conservative number crunching – is not the answer to our nation’s problems.”
This is actually a very salient argument that gets at the core of GOP’s message problems. Concerns about the federal deficit were a major factor in driving the Tea Party wave of 2010, and the issues have been central to Republicans since then. The result has been political paralysis and a one-dimensional Republican message that offers spending cuts rather than solutions. Meanwhile, poll after poll has shown that while voters are concerned about government spending in the abstract, they oppose any actual spending cuts.
Here’s Jindal’s key line: “We must not become the party of austerity. We must become the party of growth. Of course we know that government is out of control. The public knows that too. And yet we just lost an election.”
2. “We believe in planting the seeds of growth in the fertile soil of your economy, where you live,
where you work, invest, and dream, not in the barren concrete of Washington. If it’s worth doing, block grant it to the states. If it’s something you don’t trust the states to do, then maybe Washington shouldn’t do it at all.”
This is pretty standard anti-Washington rhetoric for a Republican politician with national aspirations, and establishes Jindal as a staunch states-rights crusader who sees federal government as an outdated failure. It’s worth noting, however, that Jindal’s anti-Washington argument is also a means to an end — rather than simply pushing back against Democratic spending, he argues, Republicans need to “rethink nearly every social program in Washington,” and come up with states-based alternatives.
3. “We must stop looking backward. … Nostalgia about the good old days is heart-warming, but the battle of ideas must be waged in the future.”
4. “We must compete for every single vote. The 47 per cent and the 53 per cent. And any other
combination of numbers that adds up to 100 per cent.” (Obviously, this is a direct shot at Mitt Romney.)
5. “We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behaviour. … The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.”
While some may argue that this strategy won’t do much to solve the Republicans’ problems with minority and youth voters, Jindal is taking a direct shot at conventional GOP campaign wisdom that argues Republican candidates will never win the minority vote, and therefore should not spend resources trying.
6. “We must stop being the stupid party. I’m serious. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It’s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. We’ve had enough of that.”
Obviously, Jindal is taking aim at 2012 candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who lost winnable Senate races after making inflammatory comments about rape. Significantly, Jindal isn’t arguing for the GOP to give up its pro-life platform — he’s simply calling for the party to pick better candidates.
7. “We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. … We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag lines for 30-second ads. We must be willing to provide details in describing our views.” (Another shot at Romney.)
8. “We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, or big anything. … We are a populist party and need to make that clear.”
But while Jindal’s prescriptions seemed forceful in print, the delivery was reportedly lackluster, particularly for a politician who is already considered a top contender for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination. BuzzFeed’s Zeke Miller wrote that the speech was “coolly-received” by the audience of RNC members. Yahoo’s Chris Moody compared the speech to Jindal’s first Obama rebuttal, his widely-panned response to the President’s 2009 State of the Union address.
“Similar to 2009,” Moody wrote, “the delivery may still need some work for a national debut.
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