On honeymoon in Vegas, Republican governors seek couples counseling with America
LAS VEGAS—Throughout history, the desert has been a place for personal reflection and self-discovery, where holy men retreat to seek insights into life's deepest questions.
For example, if you're a Republican in 2012, why your party couldn't get its act together and beat President Barack Obama.
America's Republican governors made a pilgrimage here this week in search of answers. Why did their party lose a contest they were told would be a cakewalk? For two days at the Encore resort and casino, the members of the Republican Governors Association met to lick their postelection wounds and mull over what went wrong. By week's end, there seemed to be more questions than answers: Was it Mitt Romney's fault? Are the Republican Party's ideas outdated? Why did Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock talk about rape so much? What can we do to make minorities like us more? Where's the craps table?
To help guide the beleaguered Republicans, there was no shortage of party brainpower on hand. In attendance was former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the wise grandfather figure who offered comfort to the afflicted, but not without forcing everyone to swallow a bitter pill first. "We've got to give our political organizational activity a very serious proctology exam," Barbour told the governors Wednesday. (Perhaps the pill was a bit too much to take orally.)
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the outgoing leader of the association, beamed like a proud father passing on his legacy to a golden son, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who became the group's chairman on Thursday. Under McDonnell's leadership, the number of Republican governors swelled to 30, making the office one of the few bright lights of an election in which Democrats dominated almost everywhere else.
Jindal, who will lead the organization until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie takes over in two years, took on an active campaign to assert his place as a national party leader. One of the most visible governors during the confab, he led discussion sessions about the election, blasted Romney for the way he ran his presidential campaign, and outlined his vision for the future to anyone who would listen.
Not playing a major public role this year was Christie, a governor burdened by the devastating hurricane that hit his state just two weeks ago. Flanked on all sides by an entourage of bodyguards, Christie walked the halls of the hotel unmolested by reporters. Looking exhausted from sleepless nights handling the relief effort, Christie was in no mood to talk. When one reporter tried to ask him a question after he said he wouldn't answer any, Christie glared at him with tired eyes and boomed, "What part of 'I'm not taking any questions' don't you understand?" Word spread, and few dared ask him anything after that.
During the conference, the governors engaged in an ongoing discussion about the party's need to reach "new constituencies." (Also known as "minorities.") Republicans have long struggled to compete for votes from Hispanic and black voters, but the election was particularly brutal this year on the party of Lincoln. Obama was able to extend his lead among all minority groups. To win in the next cycle, Republicans must recoup the losses. Problem is, they don't seem quite sure how to make this happen.