Can Jin­dal, Ru­bio, Ryan save the Repub­li­can Party?

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - From the right Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View colum­nist and a se­nior ed­i­tor at Na­tional Re­view; rpon­ Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day


can­not just be a party that pro­tects the rich,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal of his fel­low Repub­li­cans. “The rich can pro­tect them­selves.”

Only a few weeks af­ter an elec­toral drub­bing, three lead­ing Repub­li­cans have set­tled on very sim­i­lar ac­counts of what went wrong for their party. Jin­dal, Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin are all talk­ing about mid­dle-class eco­nomic con­cerns. All three men seem to have re­al­ized that fail­ing to ad­dress th­ese con­cerns was the party’s big­gest mis­take, and rec­ti­fy­ing that mis­take is now its big­gest chal­lenge.

Repub­li­cans have been vig­or­ously de­bat­ing the mean­ing of last month’s elec­tion. Some ar­gue that it wasn’t a catas­tro­phe re­quir­ing ma­jor change. For them, the party’s most ur­gent task is to re­fine its tech­niques for get­ting out the vote. Oth­ers say that the party needs to sup­port com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form to ap­peal to His­pan­ics. Still oth­ers coun­sel the party to be less con­ser­va­tive on mo­ral is­sues. Some also say the party went astray by nom­i­nat­ing a wealthy mod­er­ate, Mitt Rom­ney, for pres­i­dent.

Jin­dal, Ru­bio and Ryan, three of the top po­ten­tial Repub­li­can can­di­dates for pres­i­dent in 2016, have not ex­plic­itly re­jected any of th­ese the­o­ries. They may be­lieve some of them, at least a bit. Ru­bio, for ex­am­ple, has been try­ing to change the party’s ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion. But their state­ments since the elec­tion have con­cen­trated on strength­en­ing the party’s eco­nomic mes­sage — which is the true root of its elec­toral prob­lems.

Ru­bio and Ryan de­voted their speeches at the Jack Kemp Foun­da­tion’s an­nual din­ner last week to the topics of up­ward mo­bil­ity and the Amer­i­can dream. Ryan, while prais­ing Rom­ney, dis­tanced him­self from his former run­ning mate’s “47 per­cent” gaffe by say­ing, “We must speak to the as­pi­ra­tions and anx­i­eties of ev­ery Amer­i­can.”

Repub­li­cans are good at rep­re­sent­ing the con­cerns of en­trepreneurs, he said, but fall short in ex­plain­ing how they would strengthen fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties and help peo­ple lift them­selves out of poverty.

Ru­bio spoke more specif­i­cally about mid­dle-class anx­i­eties. He called for re­vamp­ing fed­eral aid poli­cies to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to get an ed­u­ca­tion with­out tak­ing “the tra­di­tional fouryear col­lege route.”

He also touted his bi­par­ti­san leg­isla-

Kath­leen Parker

David Brooks

Ross Douthat

Ramesh Ponnuru tion on col­lege aid: “Be­fore they take out a stu­dent loan, let’s make sure stu­dents and their par­ents know how long it will take them to com­plete their ed­u­ca­tion, what their like­li­hood of com­ple­tion is, how much they can ex­pect to make af­ter grad­u­a­tion, and how much their monthly pay­ment on the loan is go­ing to be.”

Jin­dal has been mak­ing the same ba­sic case in in­ter­views. He com­plained af­ter the elec­tion that too many vot­ers as­so­ciate Repub­li­cans with big busi­ness. He told me re­cently that “we were the party that op­posed the pres­i­dent in­stead of pro­vid­ing con­struc­tive al­ter­na­tives.” Although he dis­likes the health care law Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is putting in place, he also said, “Amer­i­cans are rightly wor­ried about ris­ing health care costs.”

Even the lan­guage the three men are us­ing th­ese days is sim­i­lar. “We need to show folks that we are an as­pi­ra­tional party,” Jin­dal said. “We need to be the party that rep­re­sents the up­ward mo­bil­ity,” a party that be­lieves “ev­ery sin­gle Amer­i­can has the same Amer­i­can dream, and we want to help them.”

Lib­eral com­men­ta­tors have pointed out that this rhetoric hasn’t been matched by much in the way of in­no­va­tive new poli­cies. None of th­ese men has pro­posed that Repub­li­cans push for a larger child tax credit with the same pas­sion they bring to low­er­ing taxes on cap­i­tal, for ex­am­ple. But they are head­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

An­other com­plaint from some of the lib­eral re­view­ers — that th­ese Repub­li­cans still hold a range of views that are fairly typ­i­cal of their party — is be­side the point. As Jin­dal put it, there’s no need for a sec­ond Demo­cratic Party. He’s in­ter­ested in “coming up with smart pol­icy so­lu­tions, con­nect­ing that to the as­pi­ra­tions of all vot­ers, and go­ing out there.”

Go­ing out where? Jin­dal, the next chair­man of the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, may have pro­vided a clue when he said, “Repub­li­can gov­er­nors are go­ing to pro­vide the ex­am­ples of lead­er­ship.”

For now, though, any ri­valry among this group is be­tween the lines, and what they have in com­mon is strik­ing. Judg­ing from some of its ris­ing stars, the Repub­li­can Party is learn­ing the right lessons from the elec­tion, and learn­ing them pretty rapidly at that.

Amity Shlaes Charles Krautham­mer

Ge­orge Will

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