A Taxonomy of the Republicans Who Hope To Lead Their Party

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 12 2012 7:15 PM

A Taxonomy of Republican Hopefuls

Meet the truth teller, the compassionate conservative, the coalition whisperer, and the doer. These are the GOP’s new, would-be leaders.

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It was Jindal who reacted most forcefully to Romney’s remarks about “gifts” after the election:

I think that’s absolutely wrong ... we have got to stop dividing the American voters … we need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American dream, which is to be in the middle class, which is to be able to give their children an opportunity to be able to get a great education. … So, I absolutely reject that notion, that description. I think that’s absolutely wrong.

During the presidential campaign, it seemed that Romney was always struggling to find a way to make a mark for himself. It turns out this was wrong. Romney did make a mark—and his potential successors are running away from it fast.

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Last week Paul Ryan played the role of the compassionate conservative as he delivered the keynote speech at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner. Perhaps, given the venue, Ryan should be labeled a “bleeding-heart conservative.” That’s what Kemp liked to call himself. He was the most prominent modern conservative to relentlessly champion conservative ideas as a way to help the poor.

Ryan spoke at length about poverty. Though he was trying to fashion himself in the Kemp mold, as a vice-presidential candidate, he was never much like Kemp. In 1996, as Bob Dole’s running mate, Kemp visited Watts and Harlem and spoke relentlessly about those on the lower end of the economic ladder. Ryan didn’t show the same emphasis—nor is Ryan taking a leadership role on these issues in the current fight with Democrats over budget priorities. It might be hard to do that during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, but that highlights a serious limitation for Ryan—he’s a member of Congress. His perch doesn’t let him do much besides deliver speeches.

Marco Rubio is something more rare—the coalition whisperer. Party strategists are hoping he will be the man who helps Republicans improve their relationship with Hispanic voters. Unlike Ryan, who must operate in the balky political system, Rubio has public gifts of the kind on display at that same Kemp dinner. He told the crowd that night of being presented with a badge from the hotel’s catering department that read, “Rubio, Banquet Bartender,” in honor of his father. “It all starts with our people,” Rubio continued. “In the kitchens of our hotels. In the landscaping crews that work in our neighborhoods. In the late-night janitorial shifts that clean our offices. There you will find the dreams America was built on. There you will find the promise of tomorrow.” No other national Republican figure can speak like that.

Some fortunate GOP rising stars get to play more than one role. Jindal was speaking to the crowd at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday because he is the governor of a state whose education system was being praised for its successful experiments with school choice. Besides trying to fashion himself as a truth teller, Jindal can also claim to be a “doer” who can point to actual accomplishments. This is also true of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been heralding his recent agreement with the Newark teachers union. Last week, Christie visited the White House and helped win more emergency aid for those hit by Hurricane Sandy. In the intraparty competition to shape the GOP’s future, Christie and Jindal will have an advantage by virtue of being governors who can point to their achievements, whereas Ryan and Rubio are members of Congress, an institution where achievement goes to die. That is, as long as Christie and Jindal don’t run from their accomplishments as governors as Mitt Romney did. That’s another lesson they’ve undoubtedly learned.

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