Gov. Bobby Jindal last week rapped on the windows of Republican kingmakers who lately have been enamored with other suitors for national high office.
In an essay for the online publication “Politico,” Jindal Tuesday demanded Republican leadership “stop the bedwetting … put on your big-boy pants” and get back into the game. His screed, which has been widely commented about among political junkies, was full of sloganeering on why the GOP should act, but had very little detail on what Republicans should do.
In an interview Thursday, Jindal said he intended to point out that while a certain amount of soul-searching is necessary, too many of the party’s intellectuals talk about how to change the conservative message, rather than focus on how to persuade a majority of American voters that the conservative way is best.
“In this last presidential election,” Jindal says, “the party spent too much time criticizing President Obama, not enough time for providing a constructive alternative. It was easy to caricature-ize our campaign, our candidate, and our party as not caring about helping people thrive in the middle class.”
It’s not so much that Republicans have elected 30 governors, as Jindal points out, but that, as strategists have warned, the GOP repeatedly loses black, Latino, Asian, young, women and college-educated voters.
The conservative columnist Josh Barro, for instance, was quoted in the June edition of The Atlantic Monthly as saying the Republicans lack the imagination to come up with ideas to get higher wages, more jobs and affordable health care to the middle class.
Michael Gerson, chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote Monday in The Washington Post about the Republican Party’s challenges. “It will need to remain true to the stable, pro-life convictions of its strongest supporters, while recognizing broad shifts taking place on gay rights among younger Americans, even with the Republican base. And it will need to speak to the concerns of working-class families who are the real swing voters in national elections.”
Jindal’s Republican vision may not be as embracing of the gay community as Gerson’s.
“Look, obviously, due to my faith and other reasons, I believe in the traditional definition of marriage,” Jindal said. “It’s important to speak respectfully. I think tone matters in this debate. We have to respect those that disagree with us … Even those of us in the Republican Party who support the traditional definition of marriage should also stand strongly against discrimination and say people should be treated fairly.”
But in reaching the middle class, Jindal agrees with Gerson.
“The Republican Party, historically, has been very comfortable talking about cutting taxes, strong military defense and foreign policy issues and that’s all great,” Jindal said. “But I think we, as a party, also need to be comfortable applying our principles to new policy areas like education, like energy production, like private sector economic growth.” The conservative principles, as applied to health care, for instance, mean opposing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as government-provided health care that is ultimately too costly and too inefficient, Jindal said. But, he says, conservatives also need to articulate how they think their principles allow private companies to deliver better-quality health care.
Obamacare was passed by Congress in 2010, held constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 and has withstood more than 30 efforts to overturn it by the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives.
Jindal ticked off a long list of changes to the structure for delivering health care that would fit with conservative principles. Among his recommendations is allowing the creation of voluntary purchasing pools, such as groups formed at church or social clubs, that could buy policies across state lines; providing refundable tax credits to help those who can’t afford private coverage; and allow states more flexibility in how they spend federal health-care dollars.
“No, this is not simply saying we can simply just apply new marketing to same old, same old party. That doesn’t work,” Jindal said. “Obviously, we need to be applying our conservative principles to issue areas and real problems the American people are facing in this nation — I know it’s not technically a recession any more, but a slowly recovering economy.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.