Mitt Romney is bitterly complaining about why he thinks he lost the election, essentially confirming everything he said in his "47 percent" comments last spring. Romney recently told donors that President Barack Obama won by offering "gifts" to African-Americans, Hispanics, and young voters. Not something he should have said, but frankly, I'm glad he did.
I'm glad because it tees up the argument many of us have been waiting to have. I've heard the same analysis from other Republicans since the election: that Obama's win was the triumph of the takers over the creators, that it was hard to compete with Santa Claus giving out "free stuff." Baloney. Republicans lost because we failed to articulate why every American benefits from free markets and limited government, or as Jack Kemp would put it, why a rising tide lifts all boats. Rather than building a bigger government with more debt, we should have convinced Americans that we need to grow a bigger economy with less government spending. Contrary to what the Democrats will tell you, less government means more jobs and faster economic growth. More opportunity means fewer people on government assistance because they've got a job—which leads to safer neighborhoods, higher tax revenues, more money donated to charities, and better schools. There's a great case to be made for populist conservatism. Paul Ryan tried to make that case—but Mitt Romney, not so much.
Romney couldn't have timed his remarks more perfectly. His out-of-touch analysis coincided with GOP governors arriving at the annual Republican Governors Association meeting, along with a waiting press corps. Here's how Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal responded: "It's certainly not helpful to tell voters that you think their votes were bought. That's certainly not a way to show them you respect them, you like them." Jindal added, "As a Republican Party, we need to fight for 100 percent of the electorate. Not 53 percent, not 52 percent, but 100 percent. We've got to stop trying to divide people into different groups by race, by gender, by class. Instead, we've got to show them that our conservative principles will help them pursue the American dream. We don't win elections by insulting voters." I couldn't agree more. Governors like Jindal know how to be principled and tough, yet at the same time inclusive and polite. Governors like Jindal, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and Susana Martinez of New Mexico are great at combining the ideology of a conservative with the attitude of a moderate. No wonder they're so successful.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said the GOP needs "a very serious proctology exam"—put the way only Haley Barbour can put things—and he's right that everything should be on the table. Republicans need to talk about how they're going to move forward from Romney's way of thinking to take on reforming immigration laws, reining in entitlements, restructuring the tax code, and even ending the war in Afghanistan—in a way that appeals to Americans from all walks of life. That's why populist conservatism is the answer.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez told Politico, "Republicans ... need to start talking to younger people, people of color, and ask them—not talk to them—ask them, 'What is it that we can do better? How do we earn your vote? How do we earn the ability for you to see that we can be the party that will make your life better and that of your children?' But we can't be the ones that come and tell them how things are going to be and how we have all the solutions."
The next big gathering of Republicans will be in January, when the full Republican National Committee convenes. Maybe Romney will say something similar right before that as well.