Two of the Republican Party’s most promising presidential prospects on Tuesday outlined their vision of a renewed GOP that represents 100 percent of Americans, in an apparent effort to distance themselves from some of the blunders of the party’s most recent presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) both delivered speeches before an audience of influential conservative leaders at the Jack Kemp Foundation’s Leadership Award Dinner. Rubio received this year’s award, while Ryan was last year’s winner.
Both lawmakers recalled the economic philosophy championed by Ryan’s mentor Kemp, the late NFL quarterback and GOP politician known for his outreach efforts to improve the lives of the inner-city poor.
Republicans, they argued, must do a better job articulating a vision of conservatism and free-market economics aimed at helping people rise out of poverty.
"We have a compassionate vision based on ideas that work, but sometimes we don’t do a good job of laying out that vision," Ryan said. "We need to do better."
"Both parties tend to divide Americans into ‘our voters’ and ‘their voters,’" Ryan said, in a not-so-subtle reference to his former running mate’s remarks about "47 percent" of the country being unwilling to vote for him. "Republicans must steer far clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American."
Ryan’s speech, titled "A Renewed Commitment to Opportunity For All," echoed the one he gave at Cleveland State University on Oct. 25 as the GOP vice presidential nominee.
Ryan had asked to make the argument more frequently on the campaign trail but was rebuffed by skeptical Romney aides, according to Politico.
He spoke Tuesday of the need to alleviate poverty by strengthening civil society, reforming the public education system, and redesigning bloated welfare programs to ensure that the millions of Americans born into poverty are given every opportunity to rise out of it.
That would require "new thinking and renewed efforts from all Americans," and dismissing the notion that "a nation should measure compassion by how much it spends."
Republicans should continue to promote conservative economic principles, Ryan said, while also acknowledging that government can play a constructive role.
"There has to be a balance," he said. "Government must act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do."
Rubio’s remarks, though broader, touched on similar themes.
"One of the fundamental challenges before us is to find an appropriate and sustainable role for government in closing this gap between the dreams of millions of Americans and the opportunities for them to actually realize them," he said. Rubio also called on lawmakers to be "creative, innovative and daring" in pursuit of that goal.
However, bigger government is not the solution.
"The promise of more government as the answer to all our problems is easy to sell," Rubio said. "But when it is put in practice, it fails every time."
Safety net programs should be protected and strengthened, "not as a way of life, but as a way to help those who have failed to stand up and try again, and of course, as always, to help those who cannot help themselves."
Rubio also appeared to pushback against Romney’s "47 percent" comments, as well as the former candidate's contention that President Barack Obama won reelection by giving "gifts" to certain segments of the voting population.
"I’ve heard it suggested that the problem is that the American people have changed. That too many people want things from government," he said. "But I am still convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people just want what my parents had, a chance. A real chance to earn a good living, and provide even better opportunities for their children."
Rubio recalled the experience of his parents, who were able to provide a better future for him and his sister despite being working-class immigrants from Cuba.
"Because of where I was raised, and who I was raised by, I know that what we have here is special," he said. "And if we lose it, there is nothing to replace it. If America declines, so will the world."
Both Rubio and Ryan said the GOP must remain engaged following their defeat at the polls to ensure these values remain in place.
"The Republican Party can’t make excuses," Ryan said. "We can’t spend the next four years on the sidelines."
Given Ryan and Rubio’s standing as frontrunners for the GOP nomination in 2016, neither will likely be on the sidelines for long.
Ryan even joked that Rubio join him for a Kemp leadership award reunion dinner, asking if anyone knew "of any good diners New Hampshire or Iowa," sites of the first presidential primaries.
"I’m sure the press won’t read too much into that," he said.