Behind GOP critiques of Romney, jockeying for 2016 has begun

Gov. Bobby Jindal's curt rejoinder to Mitt Romney's comments that President Obama won because of 'gifts' to key constituencies could position him as the GOP's 'big tent' candidate in 2016.  

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks to reporters on behalf of Mitt Romney after the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., in October. On Wednesday, he issued a sharp critique of Romney.

Even as the post-mortems on Campaign 2012 continue to be written, the jockeying for 2016 has already begun. And in many cases, they are one and the same.

Consider Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sharp critique Wednesday of Mitt Romney.

At a press conference, Governor Jindal drew a stark contrast between himself and Mr. Romney, calling Romney’s reported comments that President Obama had won the election because of “gifts” he’d provided to key constituencies "absolutely wrong."

“We have got to stop dividing the American voters,” Jindal said. “We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent.” He also criticized the Romney campaign for focusing too much on biography, and not offering enough of a “vision.”

If Jindal – who has been frequently mentioned as a possible 2016 contender – does wind up running, then comments like these could help him stake out early ground as the Republican candidate who could best speak to middle-class voters and bring more diversity into the party.

Now, we realize that it may seem awfully early for would-be contenders to be drawing battle lines. But in this age of the permanent campaign – when a politician’s words and actions have instantaneous reach and can live forever on the Internet – the initial phase of self-definition can actually prove critical. As Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin notes, it was during this very same week back in 2008 that Mitt Romney, in an apparent effort to begin burnishing his conservative credentials, wrote his ill-fated “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” opinion article.

And Jindal’s not the only one who appears to be doing some early 2016 positioning.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – who just so happens to be traveling to Iowa this weekend to appear at a fundraiser for the state's governor – has also been using conspicuously big-tent rhetoric, recently telling reporters that his party needs to moderate its tone when talking about illegal immigrants. How Rubio positions himself during upcoming efforts to tackle immigration reform in Congress could go a long way toward shaping a possible presidential run for him. (Interestingly, so far, he has indicated that he still believes a “piecemeal” approach makes more sense than a comprehensive reform package).

Former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, on the other hand, seems to be speaking more to the conservative base. His recent comments crediting Mr. Obama’s win to big “urban” turnout struck some on the left as a divisive reference to blacks. Ryan will also be a key player in the upcoming negotiations over the fiscal cliff. How he navigates that turf – whether, for example, he holds the conservative line against higher tax rates, or strikes a more conciliatory pose – could go a long way toward shaping a potential presidential run for him.

On the other side of the aisle, how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handles the upcoming hearings on Benghazi – she’s now scheduled to testify before Congress in December – could prove critical to her political future.

By the way, just in case you needed any new evidence that the next campaign has indeed already begun – well, Secretary Clinton has already received the endorsement of The Buffalo News, which this week published an editorial saying: “We hope the competing factions in national Democratic politics will coalesce to make her the nominee.”

And it looks like Clinton will be getting Warren Buffett’s vote, as well.

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