CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The official slogan for the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) three-day winter meeting in Charlotte was “Renew Grow Win.” But the slogan did little to resolve the bigger issue for the battered party, which could have been summed in one word: How?
If there was an undercurrent of hope at the gathering, the first of the party’s central committee since the November election, it was that there is a rising generation of Republican leaders, some of whom are getting buzz as possible presidential candidates for 2016.
From this diverse group, Republicans say, could emerge a Moses-like figure — maybe several — to lead the party out of its wilderness.
“I just have a lot of confidence in our message-deliverers now,” said Illinois Republican chairman Pat Brady. “I love these guys.”
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That is a relatively unusual position for the Republicans. When it comes to picking a presidential nominee, theirs is a party that generally works like a European monarchy, giving its nod to the next in the line of succession.
Many in Charlotte pointed to the 30 Republican governors as having the potential to set the party on a new course and produce a successful 2016 presidential candidate.
One of them, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, gave a keynote address in which he warned: “We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults.”
Jindal, an Indian American who has a wonky appeal, is one of several Republican governors being sized up as presidential prospects. Others, with different styles, include blunt-talking Chris Christie of New Jersey and Virginia’s polished Robert McDonnell.
Party leaders also are excited by the prospects of some of their stars in Congress, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whose performance as the 2012 GOP vice-presidential nominee got strong reviews in Republican circles.
That the Republican establishment should be looking so eagerly for fresh faces is not the norm.
The party has almost always picked a nominee who had run before (Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012), who had been vice president (Richard Nixon in 1960 and 1968, George H.W. Bush in 1988) or who came with a pedigree (George W. Bush in 2000).
In nearly all of those races, there was an insurgent alternative or two, but they were inevitably beaten back as the party rallied to its perceived heir apparent.
There is no obvious figure standing next in line for 2016 — nor are GOP leaders eager to see one, given their disappointment over Romney’s defeat by President Obama, whom Republicans had expected to be vulnerable.
“The idea of the next-guy-in-line concept is sort of a dying idea in our party,” said Reince Priebus, who was easily re-elected RNC chairman Friday. “It’s a boring idea, and we don’t want to be a boring party.”
Republicans know they can’t just wait for a savior.
“As a party, we must recognize that we live in an era of permanent politics,” Priebus said after his re-election. “We must stop living nominee-to-nominee, campaign-to-campaign.”
Jindal deflected questions about whether he is making plans to run in 2016.
“Any Republican that’s thinking about talking about running for president in 2016 needs to get his head examined,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get the Republican Party back on track.”
Much of that work centers on addressing the GOP deficiencies that were laid bare by the 2012 election.
That included a message that turned off swing voters, women and minorities; weak candidates who in some cases repelled those same groups; and voter-turnout machinery that seemed decades behind that of Obama’s operation.
All of those things combined to limit the Republicans’ reach and their appeal. Rather than broadening their base, they deepened the perception they are a party that stands on the side of wealth and privilege.
“We’ve got to be the party of the middle class and the little guy. And we need to be talking about those things now,” said Florida Republican Chairman Lenny Curry.