If Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is building a brick wall between himself and Mitt Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is building a low picket fence.
The two men — considered possible contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — are taking very different tacks when it comes to reorienting the GOP away from Romney’s “gifts” remark, which has been universally decried among Republicans as a spectacular failure of messaging at best and a dangerous misunderstanding of the American electorate at worst. Jindal is trying to cast himself as the poster boy for the latter view. Rubio seems more interested in being the spokesperson for the former postion.
At a closely-watched speech in Altoona, Iowa, on Saturday, Rubio sidled up to the “gifts” remark without mentioning it directly but dismissing the sentiment behind it.
“[Some] have said that maybe the American electorate has changed. That what people want from government now is they’re just going to vote for whomever promises them more. I don’t believe that’s true, I can’t believe that’s true. Because if it’s true then the very nature of our country has changed forever. And that just can’t happen. That cannot happen,” he said. “I think that most people are like my parents: all they want is a job that pays enough money so that they can buy a house, take the kids on vacation every once in a while, do some things that they enjoy in life, and leave their kids better off than themselves.”
Just before the Iowa speech, Rubio specifically addressed “gifts,” and said Romney’s remark was not that big a deal.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Rubio said when the Daily Caller asked “if Romney’s comments had damaged the Republican Party’s hopes of moving forward into a new era.” Rubio said Romney’s remarks were “coming off his election.”
“But you know, I think we’re all gonna move on and we’re gonna move forward,” Rubio told the Caller.
“If we want people to like us, we have to like them first,” Jindal said. “And, you don’t start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought. We are an aspirational party.”
Rubio was a big-time Romney surrogate and was vetted to be his running mate. So perhaps it’s not surprising that he’s taking less of a hard line against Romney as he builds a national profile that observers expect he will transform into a presidential campaign. Jindal was one of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s most prominent surrogates during the primaries, giving him a bit more room to take on Romney now.
It’s not clear how much substantive divide, if any, undergirds the distinction between Jindal’s full-throated rejection of Romney and Rubio’s good neighbor policy toward the former presidential nominee. Both men have said comprehensive immigration reform needs to happen, and both have said the GOP doesn’t need to change any core principles. Jindal campaigned as a social conservative in September and Rubio certainly isn’t interested in distancing himself from anyone in the GOP base — he said “I’m not a scientist, man” when asked how old the earth is in a recent interview.
But with the first months following a presidential election often critical in determining what the eventual primary race will look like, this weekend offers an insight into what could be one of the divides of of the next Republican presidential primary: Who will be the anti-Romney?