The nation’s 21 Republican governors are in defense mode. They know they’re the best and the brightest but fear the rest of the world doesn’t understand that.
Meeting in Miami after the election, now solidly the minority party, the governors embraced Haley Barbour’s statement: “When I became chairman of the Republican National Committee after Bill Clinton’s election, I quickly found out that our governors were the most popular, influential people in the party. When the other party has the White House and both houses of Congress, as it did then and will now, the only place people can actually see Republican ideas being implemented is in the states.”
Barbour, of course, is now governor of Mississippi.
First, the governors bowed before Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, calling her the most dignified, cheerful and down-to-earth vice presidential candidate they’ve had. They listened to her in awe, as she reprised her campaign speech and added that GOP governors have to keep Obama in check on issues from energy to taxes to health care. “Yes! Yes!” they applauded.
Her colleagues agreed she should be headed to the White House. But it would be foolish to think about 2012 now, they concluded. Sadly, they had to concede, they have to figure out how to get back in power.
They agreed there is a path to follow:
— Republicans must stick to their principles: Fiscal discipline, reform, limited government, strong defense and traditional values, including the sanctity of marriage and life. The public likes that message, they concluded, and is eager to hear more. At the same time, they agreed they need “bold,” “new” and “innovative” ideas.
— Republican governors should emphasize they are problem-solvers for working people. Without spending more money or embracing new government programs, Republicans must learn to appeal to women, Hispanics, African-Americans and young voters.
— Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the party has to appeal more to “Sam’s Club voters.” Pawlenty told his colleagues, “We cannot be a majority party when we essentially cannot compete” in the Northeast, the West Coast, nor, increasingly, in the Great Lakes states and the Mid-Atlantic States. “Similarly,” he said, “we cannot compete and prevail, as a majority governing party, if we have a significant deficit, as we do,” with women, African-Americans, Hispanics and people of modest means. Otherwise, the party is on track.
— The federal government should be pushed to get out of the way and give the states federal dollars to handle such things as hurricanes. “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should be a pass-through agency,” pressed one governor.”
— Republicans must promote ideas to create a hand-up, not a handout society. The federal bailout as constituted by the Bush administration, now disavowing the original bailout goal of buying up bad mortgages, was a bad idea, and the public knew it. “You won’t tax-and-spend your way out of a failing economy,” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., told the governors. “You have to release the power inherent in the American economy.”
— Republicans have to catch up to the Democrats in techno know-how. Democrats eight years ago were woefully behind in mustering Internet technology but now have mastered it and wowed young voters.
–The financial meltdown being the mother of all October surprises, when the economy improves (and the Bush presidency and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have receded in memory), Americans will again embrace Republicans. This time, they should strive not to be identified with Wall Street over Main Street.
Then the governors went off to lunch, a “leisurely cruise on the waters of the Atlantic,” “an afternoon of pampering to include manicures, pedicures, neck and shoulder massages,” a tour of the only U.S. art deco historic district including the late Gianni Versace’s villa on Ocean Drive and, finally, on their last day, golf.
The bottom line, the governors concluded, is money. Barack Obama had tons more than they did. As their Web site says, “Help rebuild the Republican Party. Donate now!”
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)