GOP Governors Meet In Miami

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The Republican Governors Association begins its annual meeting in Miami on Wednesday. Members will assess what happened in the elections. It's been a long time since they've had to review an Election Day as bad for their party as the recent one. What direction will the party take after the significant losses in last week's elections?

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

When the Republican governors begin their annual meeting today in Miami, they'll be assessing what happened in the elections. It's been a long time since they've had to review an election as bad for their party as the one just passed. Joining us for some analysis is NPR's Juan Williams. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: OK, here's the list: Republicans out of the White House, fewer seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, fewer legislative seats in statehouses around the country. Can't be a festive gathering.

WILLIAMS: No, it's not. I think there's the sense that this is a transitional moment for the Republicans. They have to rediscover principles and in some cases personalities that could them into the future. So you've got a number of interesting people attending the governors' conference. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, will be there. And Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska.

MONTAGNE: And Governor Palin, how do you see her fitting into both this gathering and also the future of the Republican Party?

WILLIAMS: Renee, she is scheduled to give a speech on Thursday called "Looking Toward the Future." So she's right in the middle of this argument about the future of the party, in part because she excited the Republican base during this last campaign like no one else. And so the question is when Sarah Palin talks about some of the cultural values issues, is that where the party goes forward? These questions are really central to the future of the Republican Party, and Sarah Palin is at the heart of this discussion.

MONTAGNE: And what about another name that came up as potential younger rising star? And that's Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

WILLIAMS: He hits high marks from everyone, Renee. And in fact in some cases he's seen as the Republican version of President-elect Obama. Here is a child of immigrants from India, has done very well, has experience on the national level. And he's already scheduled events in Iowa. So he has presidential ambitions. And it may be the case, again, that when you look at the Governors Association, you're looking at the Republican bench in terms of future stars.

MONTAGNE: Broadening this out from the governors, what is the big picture that they will be grappling with in these coming days?

WILLIAMS: Well, the big picture for the governors is how to think about the future of the Republican Party. Do you go back to the principles that created the last wave of Republicanism in the country, Ronald Reagan's emphasis on tax cuts and on strong national defense? Or do you go forward and think about things like social values and social issues without getting deeply locked into some of the cultural wars that can be paralyzing for the party? So you've got to have some values element, but exactly what is it and how do you do it in such a way that it doesn't alienate some of the people you're trying to reach, Renee?

MONTAGNE: Juan, these governors, are they better positioned to lead the party in the sense that they are not weighted down by the various issues and partisanship that would weigh down, say, senators or the national leadership of the Republican Party?

WILLIAMS: They are not involved in this unpopular war in Iraq. They're not touched by some of the scandals that have absolutely devastated the Republican brand nationally. When you think about it, the governors want to position themselves as people who actually do things. And so in the case of Republican governors, they say, you know, we've been able to hold the line on taxes, we're fiscal conservatives. We're can do when it comes to education, building roads, and the like.

And so they are saying, you know what, this is the path forward. And we are the ones who should be redefining the brand, not those national players, the ones who have created such problems. And of course they have a greater distance from what is a very unpopular president. So again that gives them some foot up in terms of this conversation that begins at the National Governors Association this week in Florida.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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