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Rothenberg: Rubio and Jindal Are Allies Now, Adversaries Maybe Later

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rubio, above, and Jindal are currently allies in a rather risky effort to redefine the Republican Party’s image, Stuart Rothenberg writes, but both are considered potential favorites for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

But to some in the GOP, the two candidates’ credentials are a sign that they are part of the “establishment” and their success to this point doesn’t guarantee anything. In fact, it makes them targets, both within the party and to liberals and Democrats who would prefer to destroy them now rather than face them in 2016 or 2020.

Paul Mirengoff of Power Line, one of the more well-read conservative websites, has already posted a piece titled, “Is Marco Rubio the New Darling of the Liberal Commentariat?” He warned that Rubio will lose his luster among conservatives if he “serves as the front-man for the kind of immigration reform being pushed by liberal Democrats (plus Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham).”

Meanwhile, liberal Huffington Post blogger Robert Elisberg’s recent post, “Marco Rubio’s High Wire Act,” ended with the assertion that the Florida Republican isn’t a new voice for the GOP, “Just the same, cold-hearted, mean-spirited, empty one, filling the echo chamber with his bunko act.”

Jindal seemed to be itching for a fight recently when he called the GOP “the stupid party” and pleaded for Republicans to “talk like adults.”

So far, conservatives haven’t berated the Louisiana governor for that remark, but the devil is in the details and if Jindal disappoints them on an issue or two, he will surely become a target.

Liberals, of course, are already attacking him. Joan Walsh’s story in Salon is titled “The Shame That Is Bobby Jindal,” while Mother Jones’ report is titled “Bobby Jindal Thinks the GOP Isn’t Right-Wing Enough.”

Rubio and Jindal seem willing to take the GOP’s damaged brand problem head-on, which offers both high risk and high reward. But most smart Republicans believe the risk is necessary.

As one GOP strategist told me recently, “It’s critically important that both Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal move to the forefront of the Republican Party now. The danger to both of them is that they get 36 months down the road and get stuck driving a car with no engine. It’s time to rebuild the car while we still have time.”

Already proclaimed by Time magazine as his party’s political “savior” and by The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza as “the new leader of the Republican Party,” Rubio is still relatively new to national politics, and he has some baggage from Florida that critics can exploit.

Jindal lacks Rubio’s charisma, and as a two-term governor, he has inevitably made some decisions that will produce criticism. And he has no foreign policy experience.

Smart Republican insiders believe that Rubio and Jindal are up to the task of remaking the GOP, but there are plenty within the party who will find reason to complain and resist. And the national media always enjoy taking down a young politician. Those are reasons enough to watch and see how the two Republicans fare over the next two years.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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