Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has done the GOP a great service by writing a thoughtful piece titled, “How Republicans can win future elections.” Jindal is a rare politician. Thanks to his confidence, communication skills and policy expertise, listeners may actually learn something when he speaks. He knows what he believes, and why. He doesn’t need talking points or tired cliches. He understands history. He has seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t. And he can talk about these things without having someone less knowledgeable write him a script.
In his piece for CNN, Jindal starts by making the vivid point that Republicans don’t need to “moderate, equivocate, and even abandon their core principles as a necessary prerequisite for winning future elections.” He continues, “That is absurd. America already has one liberal party; there is no need for another one.”
After every losing election, there are some Republicans who form a “me too” caucus. They think that since we lost to the Democrats, we should imitate some of their positions. These Republicans start to believe that whatever the Democrats are for, we should say, “me too.” That caucus usually fizzles sometime in the year following the election.
Republicans also have to avoid measuring commitment to social programs by the price tag. We have to be smarter. We will never outbid the Democrats. If Democrats are for an $80 billion program, we won’t win by saying, “We support the $60 billion program.” Unfortunately, in most political debates in Washington over the past 25 years, whoever is for spending the most money wins.
How Republicans deal with that reality and try to avoid being called the “party of no” will be difficult — perhaps more difficult than ever as a majority of voters just made plain they have rising, not diminishing, expectations of largess from Washington.
This brings us to Jindal’s fourth and fifth points: Republicans have to quit being the “stupid party” and stop “insulting the intelligence of voters.” He can’t say so, but a big part of the party’s current problem is we have too few leaders with Jindal’s capabilities. Again, he knows what he’s talking about, and people can sense that. He tells voters what the problems really are, what the options really are, and why he is proceeding in a particular way. It sounds simple, but it occurs less in American politics than it used to.
I’m not piling on the Romney campaign, but there was a list of talking points that I received prior to an Oct. 31 conference call, where campaign leaders were going to schmooze with people who talk and write in the media. The news of that day was a bad Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS swing state poll, and the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Neither of those items was discussed on the call.
Please take a moment to review the ninth-grade level talking points that we were sent in the hope that we would use them. These are examples of what the campaign thought were real vote-getters on Oct. 31.
[The Romney campaign would] Cut spending and make government smaller, simpler and smarter.
[The Romney campaign would] Fulfill our responsibility as the leader of the free world and promote the principles of peace.
After the call, I sent a melancholy, sarcastic e-mail to a long-time friend of mine at the campaign, saying, “Gee, before the call and before I got these talking points, I wasn’t aware that Romney was in favor of ‘making government smarter’ or that as president he was going to ‘promote principles of peace.’ ”
Puh-lease, they really thought this is what could be sold in the intense last few days of the campaign? Perhaps this shows how exhausted the Romney campaign was and how inarticulate the party has become.
Everybody should study the Jindal piece and embrace what he says. Also consider the Oct. 31 talking points as an example of the shallowness our campaigns must avoid.