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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal with Rx for the GOP

Thursday, November 13, 2008

HH: Joined now by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Governor, welcome back, good to have you on the program.

BJ: Hugh, always great to be on the air with you. Thank you for having me on tonight.

HH: Well, Governor, why did the GOP get thumped in ’08?

BJ: Well you know, it was real simple, three lessons, and let’s be honest. We lost, President-elect Obama won, let’s not try to make excuses for it. Three things – number one, we need to start matching our actions with our rhetoric. The party, you know, here’s the disturbing thing. You ask voters who is more likely to cut spending or cut their taxes, they trust Democrats over Republicans, and it’s the Republicans’ fault. The Republican Party started trying to defend spending in Washington we never would have accepted if the other side had proposed it. Number two, we started making excuses for corruption we never would have tolerated on the other side. A week before the election, our most senior United States Senator is convicted of federal charges. It’s only the latest example. We need to be consistent at rooting out corruption amongst our own. And then finally, number three, we’ve got to be the party of solutions. We’ve got to show the American people how our conservative principles can solve the problems that worry them. Whether it’s the rising cost of health care, whether it’s energy, whether it’s the economy, we need to show them it’s not enough just to say the other side is bad. It’s not enough to say we’re better than they are. We have to give people a real reason. You know, you and I have talked about this, but I absolutely believe people are looking for authenticity. And if you give them a fake Democrat versus a real Democrat, they’re going to vote for a real Democrat. We’ve got to go back to our conservative principles, and show the American people we’ve got real solutions. I want to just take one example. I’m against a single payer health care system. I don’t want the government picking our doctors, or telling us how to get medicine, how to get health care. And I think that’s a good start, but it’s not enough for us to simply say we’re opposed to government-run health care. We have to show the American people how tax credits and health care savings accounts and portable electronic records, and internet-based outcomes and pricing information can help give consumers more control over their health care. That’s just one example of how we can show the American voters we’ve got real solutions. If there was any silver lining to the dismal election results, and they were dismal, let’s be honest, it is this. We still live in a center-right country. You look at what voters are telling us, they didn’t all of a sudden become a lot more liberal. They didn’t all of a sudden wake up and say they wanted higher taxes. But what they did say was they wanted authenticity, and they need a reason to vote for Republicans. They’re not going to vote for Republicans just for the sake of holding onto power.

HH: Now Governor, David Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times this week, said there’s a sort of civil war in the Republican Party between traditionalists and reformers. Do you agree with that analysis?

BJ: You know, I don’t have the column in front of me, I did read it. I don’t think it should be an either/or. I don’t think it should be either you’re a reformer or you embrace traditional conservative principles. I think you can do both. I think you can embrace traditional, conservative Republican principles, but understand they need to be applied to modern day problems. I’m a huge fan of Ronald Reagan. I think he’s easily by far the best president in modern times our country has seen. But I wouldn’t say that the way to win elections is simply to take out his policies from 1980 and 1984 and run on them verbatim. Reagan wouldn’t do that if he were alive today. Reagan was bold, he was optimistic, and he was a principled conservative. We need to take traditional conservative values and apply them to the problems of the day, and offer bold solutions, new solutions. One of the reasons I think governors can help lead our party back is that real solutions will come from state houses. In Washington, you’re going to see members of Congress that are going to try to stop bad things from happening. Hopefully, they’ll fight against bad issues and bad tax policies and other bad social policies that every day, you see governors leading the way. Let me give you a specific example from the 90s. President Clinton was elected in ’92 with a similar majority in the House and the Senate, and look how we got back into the majority, and how we started earning the American people’s votes and trust again with welfare reform policies being pursued in states like Wisconsin and Michigan and Utah. All over the states, Republican governors said we think that people have responsibilities. They have rights, but they have responsibilities. We’re going to expect them to go back to work, to get an education. You know, we’re not to going to simply send people checks for staying at home. We think that people should be pursuing the American dream. And the critics came out and said it’ll never work. There were a lot of patronizing statements saying not everybody can participate in the workforce. There were patronizing statements saying people will starve in the streets. There were patronizing statements saying well, these Republicans just aren’t compassionate, all of which was nonsense. And the President, President Clinton vetoed it, but it eventually got signed into law. You saw the largest drop in poverty rates we’ve ever measured in our country, the largest drop in teenage pregnancy rates we’ve ever measured in our country. We still have work to do, but what it showed was by being bold, by being innovative, we can solve the problems that people were worried about, that were threatening our country. We can do that in education today with an emphasis on choice, with accountability, with performance. We can show that the status quo is not acceptable, that every child deserves a great education, but simply doing the same things over and over, simply spending more money is not going to solve the problem. So I don’t think we have to decide between our conservative principles and being reformers. I think we can be reformers who embrace our traditional conservative principles, and that’s what voters are looking for, by the way. By the way, the way to win elections is not copying the other side’s ideas, but presenting our own ideas, believing in them, having the courage of our convictions, and being authentic as we propose these solutions.

HH: Now Governor, in terms of the technology gap and the communication gap, the RNC is clearly outclassed by the DNC, and Team McCain was clearly lapped by Team Obama. How do we fix that?

BJ: Well, two things. One, you’re absolutely right to give credit where credit’s due. Look at how the Democrats reached out. They literally had customized e-mails that went to folks with fake news clips saying it’s your fault, Hugh, you didn’t go vote, that’s why your candidate lost, I-Phone applications that took your contact folders, organized them so you could call your friends in swing states, and sent that information back to their database. It was an amazing operation. Republicans used to lead the way in technology with the voter vault, the 72 hour plan to get our voters. But too often, Republicans have just assumed that conservative voters will turn out. They might send them a postcard on absentee voting or they might send them a recorded phone call. That’s not enough. And certainly, we’ve got to be aggressive in using the best technologies, the best tactics. But you know…and we need to do that. And we need to embrace the technology, and we need to reach out and motivate our voters. But we also need to be in the business of persuading voters. The reality is there was an intensity gap, there was an enthusiasm on the other side, or on President-elect Obama’s side, that wasn’t there among conservative voters, wasn’t there amongst our voters. I think now surveys are showing that a lot of our voters didn’t necessarily vote for President-elect Obama, but they didn’t necessarily vote. And so I think it’s going to be absolutely critical that we go back and we have a very aggressive ground game. It’s not enough just to complain about the other side. We’ve got to be aggressive in registering voters, going door to door. But we also have to remember technologies, tactics and fundraising are important, but they’re not going to win elections if we don’t have the ideas, if we don’t have the substance. We win by being right on the issues. And certainly, you’ve got to have good tactics. That alone won’t win an election. Let’s not kid ourselves. Even if we had the best technology, if we’re not offering people authentic conservative solutions that address the problems they care about, it doesn’t matter how good your fundraising and technology is. You’re still not going to win that election, and you shouldn’t.

HH: And Governor…

BJ: When you show concern, voters trust that.

HH: I want to test your reputation for being blunt. A lot…in order to change a process four years down the road, you have to start thinking about it now. A lot of people don’t like the way that Iowa and New Hampshire drive presidential nominees in our process. One’s small, the other’s open to independents. Does the Republican National Committee have to look hard at which states vote in which order in order to nominate presidents for our party, or presidential nominees for our party?

BJ: You know, there have been a lot of ideas about how we could rotate states by geography, by size. Just from a personal bias, by the time the Louisiana primaries were held, the elections in both parties were largely decided. You know, President-elect Obama came to Louisiana last time in February. Senator McCain came more often than that. But by the time that we voted, by that point, you’d already seen on the Republican side it was down to Senator McCain and Governor Huckabee. On the Democratic side, Hillary was still in the contest, but most folks at that point thought that Senator Obama was pretty far ahead. And so certainly from a selfish Louisiana perspective, we’d love to see a system…the only way that it’s going to work, the only way that it’s going to work, though, is if…the states can’t do it themselves. You saw this year on the Democratic side Florida and Michigan tried to do something different. If the parties want to change it, they’re going to have to do it. And there have been a lot of ideas of how to rotate it by state size, by geography. And you know, look, I’ll leave it to the academics to figure out the perfect process. But you know, at the end of the day, I don’t think that’s, people like to look back and say well, if the nomination process was different…

HH: But Governor, let me push you on it. Should we look hard at this process? Should the RNC be open to moving it around?

BJ: I think they can be open to it, but I don’t think that solves our problem. I don’t think it’s fair to say well, if we’d had different states vote in a different order, we would have gotten a different nominee. There are a lot of process things that can be improved or changed or tinkered with. But at the end of the day, I think we have to look in the mirror and say you know what? We lost this election for some basic reasons. We lost…it’s disturbing, I don’t care who the nominee is, it’s disturbing when voters tell you…think about this statement now, when voters tell you they trust the Democrats, they think the Democrats are more likely to cut their taxes, a lot of voters, and I’m not talking about the hard core liberal voters, but a lot of voters, a lot of independent, swing or some conservative voters said that Democrats are more likely to cut their taxes…

HH: True enough.

BJ: …more likely to rein in spending. We’re running against a candidate that was the most liberal Senator in the entire United States Senate proposing a trillion dollars of spending. When we lost on those two questions, clearly we’ve lost our way. So look, we can certainly take a hard look at the process, but let’s make no mistake about it. We’ve got to get the substance right if we’re going to win.

HH: Agreed, Governor Jindal.

End of interview.

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