The Republican Party is in a period of transition. Various politicians, pundits and columnists have suggested possible routes toward broader policy discussions and electoral success.
In politics, though, sometimes you need to get tough love from one of your own to get the ball rolling. A case in point is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
During a recent TV interview on “Fox and Friends,” Mr. Jindal had some strong words for Republicans hoping for a political breakthrough when President Obama’s second term is over. He said that any Republican considering a 2016 presidential run should “get their head examined.” He also believes the GOP needs to stop acting like “the stupid party,” and that Republicans “need to be winning the debate of ideas.”
Mr. Jindal’s assessment seems rather harsh on the surface. Republican candidates have the freedom to run in 2016, and shouldn’t have fellow Republicans telling them they’re nuts to do so. The GOP’s association with the term “stupid party,” which has been used by individuals such as Pat Buchanan and Irving Kristol, only serves to make conservatives appear weak, disorganized and ineffective. Republicans are working to win the hearts and minds of voters.
Things aren’t always what they seem, however. Dig deeper into Mr. Jindal’s cryptic statements, and you’ll find a political message of great importance to conservatives.
First, his point that Republican presidential hopefuls should “get their head examined” clearly refers to the current political climate. Declaring your intentions when the GOP is in a state of flux isn’t a clever strategy. It would be wiser to get involved in reforming the GOP to make it stronger — and then gradually announce your candidacy.
Second, Mr. Jindal’s use of the term “stupid party” is likely caused by frustration at the voting booths. He has witnessed two mediocre presidential candidates (John McCain and Mitt Romney), a disjointed mess of GOP candidates in both houses, and divisive battles between Beltway conservatives and Tea Party candidates. It has torn the Republicans apart, and Mr. Jindal may see the current situation as, well, “stupid.” Like many other conservatives, he’s had enough and wants to get the party back on track.
Third, winning the debate (or war) of ideas isn’t some newfangled approach to political campaigning. It’s an important election strategy, and Mr. Jindal was correct to suggest it.
As terrible as Mr. Obama’s political and economic agenda has been, this White House has learned some important lessons from successful Republicans like Ronald Reagan and successful Democrats like Bill Clinton. Successful politicians know how to sell ideas effectively to different audiences, use political messaging as an important election tool, keep the president’s language simple and easy to understand and endorse policy positions that make Mr. Obama look like a unifier rather than a divider.
That’s how you win the debate of ideas. The Republicans used to understand this, but they’ve lost their touch in recent years. To rekindle this conservative magic, they need to steal from Mr. Obama’s playbook and promote concepts that can appeal to Americans of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
For example, voters will listen to intelligent ideas that can lower personal income taxes and increase annual take-home pay. Support for smaller government is a must. A free-market economy with greater private-sector influence, trade liberalization and increased business and job opportunities will appeal to the American entrepreneurial spirit. Taming the deficit and controlling the debt will win brownie points. More individual rights and freedoms play to the historic — and accurate — position that Americans continue to value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Mr. Jindal is starting to do just that in Louisiana. Last month, the governor proposed eliminating income and corporate state taxes, and increasing sales tax to make up for the shortfall. As he told the Times-Picayune, “For too long, Louisiana’s workers and small businesses have suffered from having a state tax structure that is too complex and that holds back economic prosperity. It’s time to change that so people can keep more of their own money and foster an environment where businesses want to invest and create good-paying jobs.”
That’s the sort of political initiative that has endeared the two-term Republican governor to Louisiana voters. It could also be the necessary shot in the arm to get the GOP back on the right path toward winning the White House in 2016 — perhaps with Bobby Jindal as a willing and able presidential candidate.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.