The Magazine

Rising Stars of the GOP

A surprisingly upbeat group at the governors' conference.

Nov 24, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 10 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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I pressed her a bit to answer the question. "If you got a call in the governor's mansion from a pollster, and they said: 'Governor Palin, do you approve of the job the president's doing, yes or no.' Do you know how you'd answer that?"

Said Palin: "I'd have a long answer like that and say talk to me specifically about the policies, implementation of some of his ideals, and I'll be able to answer that."

Alongside all of the public discussion about the future of the Republican party and the reporting on the new Obama administration, we will probably spend a good chunk of the next two months evaluating Bush's presidency. So I put that same question to two other Republican governors at the RGA meeting, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Jon Huntsman of Utah.

The impressive young Jindal is already mentioned as a presidential possibility for 2012. The son of immigrants from India, he went to Brown and earned a Rhodes Scholarship. At 25, he was named secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, an agency rife with corruption. He turned it around. Jindal served two terms in Congress before his election as governor last year.

He is, as his résumé suggests, a policy wonk. He rattles off numbers and statistics with the greatest of ease, and reporters who take the time to check them out--as I did when working on a profile of him last year--discover that he is almost always right. When I spoke to Jindal before his speech at the RGA, he adapted the language of the left to argue for market-based solutions to the country's health care problems. Jindal says Americans have a "right" to health care, but adds: "I don't think recognizing that there's a right to health care means you favor a single-payer system."

Although he is a very effective communicator, Jindal's rapid-fire speaking style risks coming off like a used-car-salesman pitching on behalf of ideas. What is it going to take to get you into this new medical savings account? But that's nitpicking. There is a reason he's mentioned as a presidential possibility at just 37.

Jindal did not respond directly when I asked how he would respond to a pollster asking whether he approved of Bush's performance.

"Look, the history books will certainly judge the president," he said. Jindal pointed to Bush's education policies as one area of disagreement and he's been an outspoken critic of Bush on spending. At the same time, like Palin he pointed to Bush's "tremendous work behind the scenes to keep America safe after 9/11."

He added: "I voted for him twice and don't regret my votes."

Huntsman is as impressive as Jindal, though far more moderate. A veteran of the Reagan White House, Huntsman served as ambassador to Singapore at 31. He worked in both Bush administrations--at the State Department and at Commerce. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese. Before running for governor, he was the deputy U.S. trade representative.

When we chatted at the RGA meeting, Huntsman voiced concerns about the direction of his party, saying that Republicans are on the wrong side of "seismic demographic shifts that are occurring right under our feet." Huntsman, who has a strong record as a tax-cutter in Utah, argued that Republicans should talk more--and more convincingly--about the environment and issues that appeal to younger voters. He warned against "always trying to remake the world to look just like us."

Huntsman, who comes from a state that John McCain won by 29 points, was less timid than Palin or Jindal when I asked him if he approved of the job George W. Bush is doing as president. He simply said, "No."

Stephen F. Hayes, a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author of Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President (HarperCollins).