A telling sign of their determination to change course was their swift denunciation of the latest tone-deaf comments by Mitt Romney, who little more than a week ago they were all trying to help elect president.
In a conference call with campaign donors on Wednesday, Romney blamed his loss in part on “gifts” that a “very generous” President Obama had given to African Americans, Hispanics and young people. It was similar in sentiment to his earlier suggestion — also to a group of wealthy contributors — that 47 percent of the American public consists of government-dependent deadbeats who view themselves as victims.
Asked about Romney’s latest comments, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal bristled and told reporters at a Republican Governors Association meeting here: “I absolutely reject that notion, that description.”
“We need to stop being a dumb party, and that means more than stop making dumb comments,” added Jindal, the RGA’s incoming chairman and a rising star in the party.
The need to reorient and rebuild the party was a major topic of conversation at the governors’ meeting. Among the top concerns was the party’s failure to attract Hispanics, the fact that its voter turnout operation did not live up to expectations, its flatfooted response to Obama’s attacks on Romney and its misplaced optimism that Romney would win.
At one session, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour laid out the need to take an ungentle approach to fixing those problems: “We’ve got to give our political organization a very serious proctology exam. We need to look everywhere.”
Jindal and other governors insisted that putting the party back on track does not mean betraying its traditional principles.
“In the face of the losses, we do have to make changes,” Jindal said. “We need to modernize our party. We don’t need to moderate our party.”
Added Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who survived a recall effort earlier this year: “It’s not that our beliefs are wrong. We’re not doing an effective enough job articulating those beliefs.”
He also was critical of Romney’s comments. “We’re the party that helps people find a pathway to live the American dream,” Walker said. “They want to have a chance to live the American dream. They want to have a job.”
Just two years ago, fueled by the insurgent forces of the tea party movement, Republicans took back the House in a midterm election that was viewed as a repudiation of Obama. But the president’s relatively easy victory last week suggests that the gains of 2010 masked deeper problems for the GOP.