LAS VEGAS — The nation's Republican governors, frustrated by the mangled message and lack of coordination displayed in the 2012 campaign, will take a much more active role in shaping the party's message going forward, new Republican Governors Association chief Bobby Jindal said in an interview Thursday.
The Louisiana governor made the remarks after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ignited a fresh round of infighting with comments to party donors this week suggesting that President Obama won the race by offering "gifts" to favored constituencies to secure their votes.
Mr. Jindal spoke to The Washington Times after a long day of unprecedented candid self-criticism by Republican governors of the party's self-inflicted wounds in the campaign, including statements by Mr. Romney and Senate candidates such as Rep. W. Todd Akin in Missouri and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in Indiana that helped torpedo what many Republicans think were winnable races.
Mr. Jindal said the nation's 30 Republican governors would join forces to fashion a party message that is inclusive, not exclusive, and appeals to independents and Democrats as well as Republicans, to people getting government assistance and those helping to give that assistance through their tax dollars. Without sacrificing the party's principles, Mr. Jindal and other governors said, the party needs to find a new way to talk about issues such as immigration, abortion and birth control, and the social safety net.
The governors assembled here, including leading party figures such as the outgoing RGA chairman, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, expressed deep displeasure after reports leaked out of Mr. Romney's telling donors that President Obama had triumphed on Election Day because he promised "gifts" to black, Hispanic and young voters.
"Absolutely wrong. I don't think that represents where we are as a party and where we're going as a party," Mr. Jindal said in the interview. "That has got to be one of the most fundamental takeaways from this election."
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said the party's tone-deaf candidates and misguided strategists should submit to a searching, even painful, self-examination.
The GOP needs a "brutally honest assessment of everything we did," he said, prescribing a political "proctology exam."
Mr. Akin and Mr. Mourdock never recovered in their Senate races after ill-advised comments about rape and abortion that exacerbated the party's problems reaching female voters. Mr. Jindal, Mr. Barbour and others agreed that casual use of the word "rape" ought to be a disqualifier for any Republican continuing his candidacy.
"I think it falls to the governors," Mr. Jindal said. "The governors were successful at governing their states. The leaders of this party come out of the ranks of the governors."
Regarding Mr. Romney's postelection comments, Mr. Jindal said, "I think it's very important for governors to speak up and say, 'No, that's wrong.'"
"That's not our view as a Republican Party," he said. "When we see things said by Republicans we disagree with, that's not who we are, not what our party stands for, not what we want voters to take away."
Governors during recent decades have expressed similar sentiments about developing a more consistent, welcoming voice for the party. Mr. Romney, after all, is a former Massachusetts governor.
Mr. Jindal said this time it will be different because all the Republican governors are essentially on the same page and the entire party will take this year's vote as "a wake-up call."
"There is going to be a period of introspection," he said.
Although Democrats held the White House and picked up seats in the House and Senate, Republicans picked up a governor's seat in North Carolina. Their 30 governorships is the highest total for either party in a decade.
Mr. Romney's analysis of the race provoked much discussion in Las Vegas and even a sharp retort from the White House.
"The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift," Mr. Romney said, citing immigration proposals aimed at Hispanics and free contraception coverage that appealed to young women. "He made a big effort on small things."
White House spokesman Jay Carney fired back while briefing reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One to New York, where Mr. Obama viewed recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy on Thursday.
"That view of the American people, of the electorate and of the election is at odds with the truth of what happened last week," Mr. Carney said.
"Making it easier for Americans to go to college — that's good for America," Mr. Carney said. "It's good for the economy. Making health care available to young people who can stay on their parents' plans — that's good for those families. It's good for those young people so they aren't bankrupted in their 20s by an illness. And it's good for the economy, and it's good for all of us."
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report from Washington.
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