After stumping hard for Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign, several of the Republican Party’s rising stars are now berating him as divisive and potentially damaging to the GOP’s future.
Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin assailed Romney’s comments this week that President Obama’s reelection was due to “gifts” he lavished on such “special-interest groups” as minorities, women, and young people.
The governors have been joined by important party strategists such as Steve Schmidt, who managed Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Ana Navarro, a leading Hispanic adviser, who tweeted on Thursday:
“As if he didn’t do enuf harm to GOP w/Latinos, he leaves us THIS parting ‘gift.’ ”
For a party that predicted victory right up to Election Day, this rising criticism seems to reflect an urgent desire to put distance between Romney’s words and a sense that the GOP needs to retool in a more diverse America.
“We have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent,” Jindal said in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association, which Romney once led and used to raise his national profile. “We need to go after every single vote.”
Jindal’s reference to 53 percent was a criticism of Romney’s secretly recorded statement at a Florida fund-raiser in May that 47 percent of Americans depend on government assistance and do not take responsibility for their lives.
Romney later described those comments, made at the $50,000-a-plate fund-raiser, as a poorly worded way to underscore the economic needs of nearly half the nation.
Despite that explanation, Romney’s conference call with donors and fund-raisers on Wednesday echoed his earlier statements in Florida. Some participants in the conference call allowed reporters to listen.
The president, Romney said in the call, resorted to an “old playbook’’ of bestowing federal largesse on specific constituencies, particularly “the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and young people.’’
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,’’ Romney said. ‘‘Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people.”
The health care act also was a game-changer, Romney said.
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,’’ Romney said.
The White House dismissed Romney’s statements.
Repeated attempts to contact Romney’s former campaign staff were not successful.
“That view of the American people, of the electorate, and of the election is at odds with the truth of what happened last week,” said Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary. “Making it easier for Americans to go to college, that’s good for America. It’s good for all Americans. It’s good for the economy.”
Romney’s comments followed a post-election analysis from his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, who told a Wisconsin television station on Monday that Obama won because of his strength in urban areas.
Schmidt, the former campaign adviser for McCain, said Romney’s statements reflect a profound misunderstanding.
“The recent comments about what happened in the election are 100 percent wrong,” Schmidt told The Washington Post. “They offer a constricted vision of the Republican Party and the potency of a big tent conservative message.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another rising Republican star and potential 2016 candidate for president, provided a gentler critique of Romney, who he said was merely sharing his “analysis with donors.”
However, he told Politico, “our mission should not be to deny government benefits to people who need them,” even as Republicans promote policies that mean “less people need government benefits.”
In Las Vegas, Republican governors said campaigns need to replace generalities with specifics and work to broaden the party’s appeal beyond the white males at the heart of its base.
Jindal, an Indian-American who also is considered a potential presidential candidate, said that Republicans need to better show how their principles help voters reach the American dream of prosperity.
“If we’re going to continue to be a competitive party and win elections on the national stage and continue to fight for our conservative principles,’’ Jindal said, “we need two messages to get out loudly and clearly: One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the votes, and secondly, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream. Period. No exceptions.”
The criticism from Jindal, the incoming president of the governors association, was echoed by Walker. The Republican Party is not “just for people who are currently not dependent on the government,” Wisconsin’s governor told CNN. “It’s for all Americans.”
Romney did not acknowledge any strategic shortcomings and told donors his campaign staff performed superbly.
Romney added that his team is asking, “OK, what can we do going forward? But frankly, we’re still so troubled by the past, it’s hard to put together our plans for the future.’’
Jindal criticized the Romney campaign for lacking a specific, coherent plan.
“Biography and experience is not enough to win an election. You have to have a vision. You have to connect your policies to the aspirations of the American people. I don’t think the campaign did that, and as a result this became a contest between personalities. And you know what? Chicago won that.”