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Jon Ward   |   February 20, 2013    4:30 PM ET

Marco Rubio is on a trip abroad to boost his foreign policy credentials. His first stop was in Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah, and on Wednesday he was in Jerusalem, where he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toasted each other with water bottles (a nod to Rubio's State of the Union response last week).

Rubio noted in a press release that he would also be meeting with Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

It's always interesting to note who travels on these trips with the principal. Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told me that there are two aides with the Florida senator: Jamie Fly and Brian Walsh.

Fly is Rubio's counsellor for foreign and national security affairs, and came to the senator's staff a month ago from the Foreign Policy Initiative, a think tank that includes on its board Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor, who is a close friend of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc).

Fly worked in the National Security Council and at the Pentagon in President George W. Bush's administration. He has focused on "the Iranian nuclear program, Syria, missile defense, chemical weapons, proliferation finance, and other counterproliferation issues," and has published a hawkish paper on how to deal with Iran.

Walsh has been with Rubio since he started his Senate term in 2011, and worked on Capitol Hill for other members of Congress for "almost a decade" prior to that.

Also traveling with Rubio is his wife, Jeanette. Rubio's office was careful, in a press release, to note both her presence and to specify that she is traveling "at no taxpayer expense."

After he returns, Rubio will speak about his trip at the Washington Institute.

Update: 5:27 p.m. - I asked Conant who is paying for Jeanette Rubio's travel. He e-mailed back that Mrs. Rubio "had meetings she needed to conduct in Israel as part of her work for the Braman Foundation."

"She scheduled her work meetings to coincide with Sen. Rubio's trip so they could be there together," Conant wrote. "Obviously Senator Rubio is there on official business and his expenses are being paid for by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee."

The Braman Foundation is headed by billionaire businessman Norman Braman, a supporter of Rubio's who traveled to Israel with the new senator and his wife just after Rubio won election in 2010.

Politico reported last year that Jeanette has been working part time for the Braman Foundation, "helping it identify projects and organize its giving."

Braman gave $39,900 to the Rubio Victory Committee in 2010, along with $4,800 to Rubio's Senate campaign.

In 2012, Braman gave $5,000 to Rubio's Reclaim America PAC, and $35,000 to the Rubio Victory Committee.

Jon Ward   |   February 20, 2013    9:38 AM ET

Newt Gingrich has a unique position in the Republican Party and in conservative politics. He's been the Speaker of the House. He's run for president. He is one of the more creative and versatile thinkers on the right. And he has an appetite, at 69, to stay in the game.

So Gingrich's column in Human Events Wednesday, in which he attacks GOP consultants Karl Rove and Stuart Stevens by name, is a potentially significant moment.

"I am unalterably opposed to a bunch of billionaires financing a boss to pick candidates in 50 states," Gingrich writes, casting Rove as the "boss" picking candidates through groups like American Crossroads. "No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country."

"That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine. It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican," he writes.

Gingrich also mocks Rove for his "blow up" on Fox News on Election Night, after Fox called Ohio for Obama.

"Handing millions to Washington based consultants to destroy the candidates they dislike and nominate the candidates they do like is an invitation to cronyism, favoritism and corruption," Gingrich writes.

Within the insular world of party politics, there are not many willing to name names when they make pointed remarks. Rove in particular is an intimidating figure. He is powerful and has long tentacles in the party. Most who have something to lose don't want to take him on.

Gingrich does not have a lot to lose at this point in his career. Yet he is enough of the establishment to turn heads with his critique. Perhaps others may follow.

Even if they don't, Gingrich's column could give the grassroots a champion to rally behind against the political establishment. He has sparred with Rove before, but never like this. Gingrich is no dummy. He knows there is plenty of grassroots fervor waiting to be summoned on this issue. He showed his knack for tapping into the emotions of the base during the last GOP presidential primary, when he won South Carolina after bashing moderators from Fox News and CNN and essentially running against press bias.

Gingrich may not have an end game in mind here. And whether he does or not is less important than the fact that until now, the disagreements within the GOP have stayed largely behind doors. Yes, some of the younger heads in the party have griped about the GOP's older consultants to Robert Draper, and groups like FreedomWorks continue to throw bombs, but there has been little evidence of a public intra-establishment fight.

Gingrich's column may be the spark that sets one off.

On the other hand, some said Gingrich was still pulling punches by not going after sitting U.S. senators, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).


I asked Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond about Martin's tweet when Hammond called me this morning.

"I'm sure if he saw [the senators], he would mock them for that, for wanting to get involved in primaries, and not stepping up to the plate and doing it themselves," Hammond said. "Jim DeMint is a senator who did exactly that. He did get involved in primaries and he didn't do it under the guise of somebody else's organization."

Hammond called because he wanted to emphasize that even though Gingrich is against super PAC's, he believes individuals should still be allowed to give "as much as you want to whoever you want" as long as it is disclosed on the internet within 24 hours.

When Sam Stein and I interviewed Gingrich in December, he had a lot to say about consultants, though he didn't go after Rove or Stevens by name at that point. We included some of his comments in our piece, but not all of them on the topic. And looking back, this was one of the more interesting portions of the interview, because Gingrich got into talking about the way a consultant-dominated party creates flawed candidates:

Gingrich: I've talked about our consultants for a decade. I lived with these guys prior to Reagan, and it's almost like the movie Awakenings. I watched Kemp and Reagan and myself try to move toward an idea-oriented, risk-taking, open party, and then I watched the party revert.

HuffPost: And that's because of consultants in your mind?

Gingrich: Because of the culture. The culture of the Republican party is a managerial culture, in which everybody has their defined job and you should stay in your lane. And the candidate's lane is to raise money. And then when they raise money they hire smart people. Then smart people do smart focus groups, then smart focus groups lead to smart speeches, which the candidate should deliver. Now that is in fact exactly wrong. If your candidate isn't growing, if they're not writing their own speeches, if they don't know what their own policies are, why would you think they're going to be able to function in the real world? It's a very big, deep problem.

HP: It's why they couldn't explain anything.

Gingrich: Right, and the candidate can take far bigger risks than any staffer or consultant. If you go back and look, it's Obama who drives some of the biggest risks in the camapaign, because he is living out his understanding of what he wants to accomplish.

HP: And he's processing as he goes, a lot of times.

Gingrich: Exactly. It's a lot like ballet, or like a quarterback rollout in football.

HP: But also just exposing him to different mediums, like urban radio, or Reddit, he gets a sense of what people are concerned about.

Gingrich: My model of leadership is listen, learn, help and lead in that order. So if you're not in the room listening, and you don't listen for real, to learn - it's not transactional, you're listening to learn - why would you think you're going to be able to lead? So if you haven't met with Asian-Americans, and you haven't met with Latinos, and you don't understand what they hear when you suggest your grandmother will self-deport.

Jon Ward   |   February 15, 2013    8:32 AM ET

Former Bush White House advisers Mike Gerson, who was W's top speechwriter, and Pete Wehner, who worked on policy and strategic initiatives, are out today with the latest in a long line of articles on why the Republican party is in trouble, close on the heels of Robert Draper's piece this week in the New York Times magazine.

Gerson and Wehner's piece in Commentary magazine is, unsurprisingly, well-written, and includes some specific policy ideas that they think will help the GOP: pull a Roosevelt (Teddy) and break up the big banks; prison reform; an emphasis on worker training, and some others.

But the real strength of the piece is the historical perspectives they bring to the table. They go over the last few decades of presidential elections, and then trace the rebirth of the American Democratic Party led by Bill Clinton, and of the British Labour Party led by Tony Blair. The modern GOP, they argue, is in the same position and in the same need of dramatic reform.

The line that stood out to me was when they described the 2010 midterms, which marked the rise of the Tea Party.

"The resounding Republican midterm victory in 2010 now seems more like an aberration – a temporary backlash to presidential overreach – than evidence of an upward trend," Wehner and Gerson write.

That strikes me as the kind of big picture framing of the last few years that is in the territory of original thought. Maybe some have already concluded that. I certainly haven't heard too many on the right say it out loud. But it is a logical conclusion to reach after the results of last fall's election, as well as the historical context that Wehner and Gerson lay out.

For example, they point out that "out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican."

By way of contrast: "During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats' 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes."

Of course, the one Democrat to win during that period was Jimmy Carter, whose victory was due in large part to the stain of Watergate that Richard Nixon had left on his successor, Gerald Ford.

Some of Gerson and Wehner's proposals will raise eyebrows. They are both evangelical Christians, and so some in their camp to will no doubt wonder what exactly they mean when they write: "Republicans need to make their own inner peace with working with those who both support gay marriage and are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage."

Their advice on global warming is, in fact, where the GOP is heading on the issue. They argue that scientific evidence is clear that the planet is warming and that man contributes to this dynamic, but then say that "to acknowledge climate disruption need hardly lead one to embrace Al Gore's policy agenda."

"It is perfectly reasonable to doubt the merits of pushing for a global deal to cut carbon emissions--a deal that is almost surely beyond reach--and to argue instead for a focus on adaptation and investments in new and emerging technologies," they write.

"Confronting climate change is important in and of itself. It is also important as a matter of epistemology, to show that Republicans are not, in fact, at war with the scientific method. Only then will Republicans have adequate standing to criticize junk science when it's used as a tort weapon or as an obstacle to new energy technologies."

As for the GOP's political infrastructure, Gerson and Wehner argue for the creation of an organization similar to the Democratic Leadership Council, which pulled the Democratic Party toward the middle in the 80's and 90's. The bigger question is whether any organization, especially one based in Washington, can shape the Republican party, or any party, in a day when ideas and influence often come from the bottom up, from the grassroots, more than anything.

But the Democrats have shown that central organizations can play a role, pairing a dynamic, transformative candidate with an aggressive community organizing effort. Whether that's possible on the right is an open question. As Newt Gingrich told Sam Stein and I back in December: "One of the characteristics of the right is that it's much harder to have social networking, because people on the right like being iconoclastic."

Jon Ward   |   February 14, 2013    2:36 PM ET

High level sources on Capitol Hill expect the sequester to happen at this point.

Some leading Republicans have said this. But Hill aides also say they expect, essentially, two failed votes and then a possible negotiation after the impact of the sequester is actually felt.

The two votes would come the week after next. Congress is out on recess next week, and will have four days when they come back before the sequester hits on March 1.

The negotiations over a potential replacement will be guided, in part, by the public response to the sequester's impacts. If it is dramatic, that could force Republicans to come to the table. If the public reaction is not overwhelming, Republicans are likely to just let the sequester stay in place.

The sequester would restrain the federal budget over the next decade by roughly $1 trillion. Half would come from defense spending, and half from non-defense. It wouldn't actually cut current spending levels, but would rather reduce future projected increases in spending.

Democrats want to replace the first year of sequester reductions with a plan that is half tax increases and half spending reductions.

Update: 5:27 p.m. - Two clarifications. Because the sequester would impact the current fiscal year, which ends in September, the $85 billion reduction would function as an actual cut in the first year, and as a restraint of scheduled increases beyond that. And the two expected failed votes referred to are both Senate votes, one proposed by Republicans and one by Democrats.

Jon Ward   |   February 11, 2013    3:24 PM ET

How did a 44-year old single white male, who still lives at home with his mom and is sometimes compared to a beaver, become a likely prospect to be the next Canadian prime minister based on "the formidable network he’s built at the heart of ethnic communities"?

Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration minister, did it mostly by pure shoe leather.

Kenney is the subject of a profile in Maclean's that was flagged this morning in Ben Domenech's morning e-mail, The Transom.

The piece, by Alec Castonguay, explains how, with the help of Kenney's leadership, Canada's conservatives "estimate that they captured 42 per cent of the country’s ethnic vote last election—more than 30 per cent of their total vote, and more than any other party."

American conservatives - whose relationship with minorities has gotten worse over the last decade - have taken notice, according to the article. And in fact, Kenney will meet in Washington with Republican officials on March 18, including a meeting at the Republican National Committee, according to an RNC source.

Kenney is a prototype of what I wrote about in my January magazine piece on the need for a shift in Republican culture:

Tactically, they need better candidates, and younger, more diverse people at all levels: political consultants, field operatives, grassroots volunteers. But to attract organic support from young people, women and minorities and continue harvesting new faces, conservatism needs an attitude adjustment: get hungry, get humble, and get to know more people who aren't like you.

A cultural shift in the GOP -- more youth and more real relationships with people outside the traditional conservative demographic -- will go a long way toward fixing the party's other big problem: the idea that you can persuade people by talking at them, and not with them.

Witness the evidence in Kenney's schedule:

He has shaken thousands of hands, put away hundreds of very spicy meals and pulled off his shoes an incalculable number of times in entering mosques, temples or integration centres to give speeches. His methods are old school, far removed from social networks, where human contact, proximity and the fight for values undertaken by the Conservative party have gradually won over a large number of new Canadians.

... The minister has been on the road three weekends out of four. Some Sundays, in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, he takes part in as many as 20 cultural activities, starting at dawn in a temple and ending in darkness at a partisan reception. “In the last election campaign, I’d done so many that I became confused: I bowed to the wrong God in a church. I looked completely ridiculous,” he admits, laughing.

... It’s a rhythm he manages to maintain, but it doesn’t stop him from bottoming out from time to time. “When I see the weekend arrive with 20 or 25 scheduled events—not counting travel—I sometimes feel a profound fatigue take over. I have to motivate myself by thinking that every gesture will count over the long term,” he says. It’s also a physical challenge. “People from the communities like to touch you, to embrace you, to hug you, and physical contact isn’t my strong suit.”

There are a few other takeaways from the piece:

Jon Ward   |   February 8, 2013   10:35 AM ET

On Thursday afternoon, Republican National Committee Reince Priebus met with a group of black Republicans in Atlanta, as part of what one participant called a "listening tour."

Andre Walker, a Georgia Republican who left the state Democratic Party in 2010 (and was once part of the Democrats' state executive committee), wrote about the meeting on his blog.

The Republican Party has to get into the black community. We have to be the party of Bankhead and Buckhead. We have to be on the campuses of the University of Florida and Florida A & M. And Republicans have to come up off some money to do all of that. Wallace Coopwood, the oldest black Republican in the room, put it very succinctly to Chairman Priebus. Talk is cheap, and the Republican National Committee needs to back up their talk with some cold hard cash.

RNC National Finance Chair Ray Washburne was in the room. Washburne is the guy who, along with Reince Priebus, has to convince Republican donors to give freely in support of African-American outreach. Priebus committed the Republican Party to black community outreach, and it is up to Washburne and Priebus to fund it.

I've e-mailed Walker asking how donor money would be used to fund minority outreach.

Update: 12:18 p.m. - Walker responded in an e-mail:

Jon Ward   |   February 7, 2013    3:38 PM ET

If you were around for George W. Bush's presidency, you will remember Jack Goldsmith. He's the guy who tore up the Bush administration's "torture memos" and then wrote a book about it.

The book was called "The Terror Presidency." It was an unprecedented look inside the Office of Legal Counsel, the office within the Department of Justice that issues legal opinions on the authority of the executive branch.

Goldsmith ran the office from October 2003 to June 2004, and he made no friends in the Bush White House, rescinding a number of legal opinions that were crucial to Bush's "War on Terror," including the one justifying enhanced interrogation techniques such as water boarding, sleep deprivation, and stress positions. Goldsmith rejected the memos on the basis that there was not sufficient legal basis for them.

Goldsmith resigned after less than a year on the job, and after he departed OLC the office reauthorized the memos he had rescinded.

OLC, of course, is back in the news. They are the office that wrote the white paper leaked this week to the press - and the secret legal opinions discussed in the paper - about drone strikes and the process for killing American citizens suspected of terrorist activity.

Goldsmith, who is now at Harvard, has been writing about the memos at the Lawfare blog he founded with two others, and elsewhere. His reaction to the DOJ white paper, on the surface, might surprise some.

Jon Ward   |   February 5, 2013    9:33 AM ET

My piece on Eric Cantor's people power conservatism is up on the site this morning. I toured a private school for low-income students in Petworth yesterday with the House Majority Leader, and we spoke by phone later in the day.

At the end of our interview, I asked Cantor about the picture of him that went viral on inauguration day. It was a screen shot of the Virginia Republican on NBC News during the reading of the inaugural poem. Cantor was shooting poet Richard Blanco a look that said, 'You have GOT to be kidding me.'

Here's a transcript of my question to Cantor and his answer:

What was going through your mind - everybody screen shotted that picture of you listening to the poem on inauguration day. What was going through your mind when you heard that poem?


Cantor: Oh, you know, I don't know. Listen, I was, I was--I can't even tell you what was going through my mind. I don't know what the screen shot was.

Cantor aide Rory Cooper: I actually don't think he has seen it.

Cantor: I have not seen it, so there you go. And I'm pretty active on my Twitter, so maybe I'm not following the right people.


Jon Ward   |   February 1, 2013   10:03 AM ET

My interview with Yuval Levin is up on the site this morning. Levin, a policy expert, influential conservative writer, and an ally of Paul Ryan, says Ryan's Medicare reforms that he has pushed for the last few years are still the GOP's best way forward on the issue of entitlements and debt, even if Obamacare is implemented. He explains why Ryan, the Republican House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin, thinks Obamacare will "collapse under its own weight."

During our interview, Levin said something on the sequester that I thought was interesting but which didn't fit into the story about Ryan and Medicare. Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense by the president, Levin said, essentially guaranteed that House Republicans will let the sequester happen.

The sequester is set to hit March 1, and would restrain the federal budget over the next decade by roughly $1 trillion. Half would come from defense spending, and half from non-defense. It wouldn't actually cut current spending levels, but would rather reduce future projected increases in spending. But for massive enterprises like the Pentagon, losing $45 billion out of next year's budget is a big deal, especially because the scale of what they do requires so much advance planning. Even if the money being taken out of the budget is not technically a cut, it functions like one because they have been planning on using that money for some time.

Levin's theory is that "the Hagel nomination really changed the thinking of the defense hawks" by sending a signal that President Obama and his new defense secretary (if he's confirmed) don't really care whether the Pentagon gets cut by $500 billion over the next decade.

"They've been working with [outgoing defense secretary] Leon Panetta who has been saying, 'The Pentagon can't really live with the sequester levels of spending. We understand we need to reduce spending so let's figure out how to redirect this.' The president himself has been fairly open to that. And now it just doesn't seem like that's the case anymore," Levin said.

"So that House Republicans would have to fight among themselves about defense spending and figure it out, and I just think it's not going to happen. If the Pentagon doesn't want it then it's hard to imagine a civil war among House Republicans to give the Pentagon money that it doesn't want," he said.

Not all the defense hawks are quiet. Sen.'s John McCain (R-Ariz) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sounded an alarm this week. So it may be that Levin's premise is wrong. But it's an interesting one.

He also said he thinks that House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) retreat on the fiscal cliff has put Ryan back in a more central and advantageous position than he was before, has reduced the president's role and his leverage, and has put the GOP on more solid footing regarding their House majority.

"So what is the 2014 election congressional election going to be about? I think the Democrats want it to be about the House Republicans are chaotic and crazy and they're preventing Washington from getting anything done. I think House Republicans want it to be about Senate Democrats are dysfunctional and irresponsible, and they're driving us into debt. I think that this move on debt ceiling gives the Republicans a much better chance of making that the story then they had before," Levin said. "

"And that story has the budget debate right in the middle of it. So that's I think what they're trying to achieve with it. And it's pretty smart. It forces the Senate Democrats out of their hiding place. It makes Obama less central to the story, and it makes the House look a little more mature. That's what they need to do if they're trying to keep the House and take the Senate."

Obama, he said, "becomes less relevant."

We shall see. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), for one, certainly doesn't think the fiscal cliff maneuver was sufficient for the GOP.

Jon Ward   |   January 29, 2013    4:11 PM ET

My piece on Marco Rubio's successful interview with Rush Limbaugh is up on the site. I point out that Limbaugh is, like Mark Levin, giving himself a way to support Rubio's immigration push by making President Obama the villain.

One thing I didn't note is how important it is for reform proponents that John McCain hasn't become the bad guy (yet) to the Limbaugh and Levin crowd. McCain is, like Rubio, part of the group of eight senators behind the immigration proposal in the Senate, and he is a big political personality who is hated by many on the right.

Talk radio has long bashed McCain with gusto (just check out Limbaugh's impression of McCain for exhibit A). And the Arizona Republican senator has said things that would make it easy for the right to go after him in this current debate. He invoked Teddy Kennedy's name on Monday and has said on multiple occasions that the current plan is the same as what Kennedy and he backed in 2007, evoking memories of when the right tore that proposal to shreds.

McCain also put himself out front at the Senate press conference on Monday, opting to be the first Republican senator to speak after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led off with opening remarks. Rubio didn't speak until the 24-minute mark of the press conference.

McCain, a 76-year old war hero and former nominee of the party for president, has certainly earned the rank he pulled in making Rubio wait his turn. But it's hard to argue that McCain is the better representative for the GOP to either the right or left.

Nonetheless, Rubio has managed to make himself the face of the immigration push with an aggressive public relations effort. He went on Limbaugh's show Tuesday and was scheduled to go on Levin's Tuesday evening for the second time in a week. Also on Tuesday, he went on Sean Hannity's radio show, Mike Huckabee's radio show, and did Hugh Hewitt and Geraldo Rivera's radio shows on Monday evening, and talked to Hot Air, Newsmax and National Review earlier that day. He's gone on Laura Ingraham's radio show twice in the past two weeks.

He's done all the big Fox shows: Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, and Hannity.

He's also done outreach to mainstream establishment press and to Spanish-language media. He sat down with the Wall Street Journal editorial board, as well as to the New York Times editorial board. Not many Republicans in recent memory have done the latter.

And Rubio's office said he did interviews with all three major Spanish-language TV networks on Tuesday as well: CNN en Espanol, Univision and Telemundo. Rubio had done Univision and Telemundo once each previously in the past few weeks, as well as some Spanish-language radio stations, they said.

"Immigration is a complicated and emotional issue, and in past debates there's been a lot of confusion about conservatives' positions. With immigration set to be such a big issue this year, Sen. Rubio thought from the outset that it was important to clearly state his positions early and often," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant e-mailed me. "He wants there to be as little confusion as possible about what he supports and what he opposes, and the best way to do that is to clearly communicate across a diverse set of mediums."

McCain has not been anywhere near as visible in the press. Maybe he realizes the reality of who is better suited to be the salesman this time around. I'm waiting to hear back from a McCain spokesman on that.

To tie it together: it's not just about Rubio being the better salesman. It's that he's attractive to the right, not toxic like McCain. And keeping the right from rising up in revolt is important to all sides involved who want to see immigration reform legislation pass through the Congress.

There is risk for Rubio in tying himself so clearly to the immigration push, without a doubt. If the immigration deal falls apart, or the right decides en masse that they don't like it, it would likely hurt his political brand. But he's already got something of an exit strategy, which he articulated to Limbaugh when the radio host raised concerns about border security.

"To the point of them not wanting to do the security, look, all I can tell you is that that’s a big issue for me and that’s why I’m involved in this process," Rubio said. "I have no reason to believe it won’t happen, but if it doesn’t, then I’ll come back to you and say, 'Look, it didn’t. We tried. They put that in the principles, but then they drafted a bill that didn’t do it, and I couldn’t support it.'"

Update: 5:37 p.m. - McCain spokesman Brian Rogers e-mailed to note that McCain has been out there as well.

McCain did Fox and CNN on Monday, CBS "This Morning" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday morning, Michael Medved's radio show and local Arizona radio shows on Monday and Tuesday, and will on Wednesday morning appear with Sen. Chuck Schumer at the Politico Playbook Breakfast with Mike Allen.

Jon Ward   |   January 25, 2013    5:23 PM ET

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report noted something Thursday night on her Twitter feed that is worth looking at a little closer.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's speech at the Republican National Committee meeting in Charlotte last night was an almost total repudiation - and dismissal - of Paul Ryan.

Jindal did not mention Ryan by name, and a Jindal spokesman e-mailed to dispute this interpretation (see below), but the 41-year old governor spoke mockingly of Republicans who are "in love with zeroes" as he urged conservatives to stop focusing on Washington and to "re-orient our focus to the place where conservatism thrives – in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway."

Ryan, 42, the Republican House Budget Committee Chairman from Wisconsin, is nothing if not a wonk, and he has made his mark in the GOP - and was chosen by Mitt Romney to be his running mate last year - largely because of his work crafting a Republican budget proposal and because of his expertise on the ins and outs of the federal budget process, as well as the health care realm.

Jindal and Ryan are both top GOP prospects to run for president in 2016. And Jindal seemed to be taking clear aim at Ryan in his remarks, with passages in his speech like this:

Today’s conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs…even as we invent new entitlement programs.

We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping.

This is a rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play.

And this:

Today’s conservatism is in love with zeroes.

We think if we can just unite behind a proposal to cut the deficit and debt…if we can just put together a spreadsheet and a power point and a TV ad….all will be well.

This obsession with zeroes has everyone in our party focused on what? Government.

By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington – instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport, and Cheyenne.

We as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching – even conservative number crunching – is not the answer to our nation’s problems.

We also must face one more cold hard fact – Washington is so dysfunctional that any budget proposal based on fiscal sanity will be deemed ‘not-serious’ by the media, it will fail in the Senate, and it won’t even make it to the President’s desk where it would be vetoed anyway.

Jindal made sure to not completely dismiss Ryan and other Republicans in Washington, with this section:

Yes, we certainly do need folks in Washington who will devote themselves to the task of stopping this President from taking America so far off the ledge that we cannot get back.

We must do all we can to stop what is rapidly becoming the bankrupting of our federal government.

But we as conservatives must dedicate our energies and our efforts to growing America, to growing the American economy, to showing the younger generations how America can win the future.

But by and large, these portions of Jindal's speech were a statement that the work being done in Washington, and those Republicans doing it, are bit players. The implication then is that governors are the ones doing the real work to advance conservative principles and to show the effectiveness of their ideas.

Spokesmen for Ryan and Jindal did not respond to e-mails asking for comment.

Update - 6:47 p.m. - Jindal communications director Kyle Plotkin e-mails:

You are seeing it the wrong way.

The Governor has been clear that it is the job of Republicans to be fiscally responsible and balance the budget.

Paul Ryan has been doing more serious work in that vein than anyone in government and the Governor is grateful for it.

Paul is a friend of the Governor's and has his full-throated support.

The Governor made clear that fiscal conservatism and stopping President Obama's spending is vital.

His point is that budget balancing is a tool, not an agenda or a vision for a party. We have to have an agenda that is bigger than the numbers in the federal budget.


Jon Ward   |   January 24, 2013   11:23 AM ET

Earlier this month, I asked someone close to Marco Rubio what they thought I should watch to see how the right reacts to his push for immigration reform.

The answer: the House GOP, Fox News, and talk radio.

On Wednesday, Rubio, the Republican junior senator from Florida, called in to one of the most popular talk shows, the Mark Levin Show.

Levin is the guy who said, a few days after the election, that the immigration issue "had nothing to do with the Republican loss" and that "Republican leaders are really stupid people" for talking about moderating their stance. He's the guy who talked, just earlier this month, about "illegal aliens" being "caught and released" by the government, and the crimes they commit. He called former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a "panderer" last year for talking about immigration reform. Levin generally likes to yell a lot.

But with Rubio, Levin was soft-spoken and receptive. He was perhaps a bit skeptical as Rubio explained, in a good amount of detail, his immigration reform ideas. But he did not rip the senator.

In fact, as with the House GOP's lack of revolt Wednesday over John Boehner's debt ceiling retreat, there was a sense that the gears were turning in Levin's head, leading him to conclude that perhaps stridency should be moderated.

“You know this is very fascinating to me," Levin told Rubio at the end of their 10-minute interview. "I am going to take a much closer look at this and I am going to try to keep an open mind about it."

After Rubio got off the phone, Levin was even more laudatory of the senator.

"He and I actually go back a ways. When he was at five percent in the polls, this was the first show to endorse Rubio against [Charlie] Crist, and I'm glad I did. You don't have to agree with everything he said, but listen to him. He's a thinker, he's trying- he's a problem solver. He's a conservative. Like I said, you don't have to agree with everything he said, but he even said, 'Look I'm open to ideas, I'm open to suggestions, let's advance our principles. it's a problem, we've got to address this problem, and he's right. We have de facto amnesty right now. When he said it, it set a light bulb off. Maybe I am a little slow. I said, ‘Well he’s right, we do have de facto amnesty.’ Which is exactly why Obama wants to really do nothing.”

Rubio is likable, and you see that having an effect on Levin. Rubio is heading off criticism by making the effort to talk to the loudest and most influential voices who have traditionally used the "amnesty" label as a sledgehammer to halt any Republican efforts on immigration reform. And Levin's response is to start to convince himself that these ideas of Rubio's aren't really all that bad. Notice also how Levin appreciates Rubio's comment about wanting to hear ideas and push back from others.

And then you have Levin constructing a new argument where he can still have something to rail against. The new construct will be that President Obama and Harry Reid, if they don't agree with Rubio's ideas on immigration reform, just want to retain "amnesty." This is a significant shift, if Levin warms to it and the rest of talk radio follows suit. In the past, they have thrown the "amnesty" tag at just about anything that moved. Under this new construct, they would still be yelling about "amnesty," but only in describing the Democratic plan for immigration reform, and not all plans except building a border fence. This is forward motion, not gridlock.

For another example of Rubio's conciliatory style, observe his approach Wednesday to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Senate hearing on the Benghazi consulate attack. His questions were deferential, even though his comments to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News later were far more critical of Clinton. Rubio's approach was in stark contrast to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky), who blasted away at Clinton for most of his allotted time.

Paul got the headlines. Rubio probably made a lot more progress for his party with his Levin interview.

Jon Ward   |   January 23, 2013    6:58 PM ET

I wrote earlier Wednesday about how the general lack of Republican revolt over John Boehner's debt-ceiling retreat was a sign that the previously intractable elements of the House GOP -- and the broader conservative movement -- are beginning to develop some political antennae.

And those antennae are picking up a clear signal: President Barack Obama is out for their House majority.

That might not seem like a news flash. But many House GOPers who have been elected in the last two cycles have been focused on sustaining the spirit of the 2010 midterms and are only just waking up to the fact that 2014 could be a mirror image of that election. Obama's reelection, the fiscal cliff debate, and Obama's inaugural have made that clear.

House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio), in a speech Tuesday that was closed to reporters, made it crystal clear that simply surviving the next 22 months is going to be the most challenging and important priority for him and his conference.

"We’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party," Boehner said in a speech to the Ripon Society, a conservative think tank, which published a partial transcript of the remarks on its website.

Boehner said Obama's inaugural address sent a clear signal to him about Obama's overarching objective during the first and second years of his second term in office.

"Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans," Boehner said.

"And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal -– to just shove us into the dustbin of history," he said.

Jon Ward   |   January 23, 2013    2:47 PM ET

WASHINGTON – There were a few conservatives who criticized John Boehner's tactical retreat on the debt ceiling on Wednesday, but for the most part, the Republican speaker of the House was able to get the right wing of the GOP behind raising the debt ceiling for three months without any spending cuts.

House leadership aides told The Huffington Post that three factors helped them get enough of their conservative members on board to pass the legislation Wednesday.

First, it was crafted by a working group of House leaders including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) -- a team that is respected by many of the most conservative House members. Additionally, at a session in Williamsburg at the House GOP retreat last week, Boehner and the rest of the party's leadership made sure to set a few hours aside simply to listen to the concerns and feedback of all the back-benchers who wanted to speak.

And finally, a House GOP leadership aide said, rank-and-file members are beginning to wake up to the likelihood that President Obama's goal for the next two years is to make the GOP look as extremist and obstructionist as possible, in hopes of retaking the House in 2014 and having control of the White House and both chambers of Congress -- like Democrats did in 2009 and 2010.

A Boehner aide said that "there was a lot of talk [this week] about playing chess rather than checkers – and picking the smart fights."

"Republicans need to demonstrate patience and care. They need to avoid the traps being laid for them by the president," wrote Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House adviser who recently worked for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. "President Obama’s aim is to portray House Republicans as extreme to the point of being nihilistic. His hope is to go to the country in 2014 and blame the GOP for standing in the way of reasonable proposals and progress."

But outside the House, the GOP's right flank held steady as well. Outside groups supported the move or declined to attack it -– with the exception of FreedomWorks -– and the bill passed Wednesday afternoon, 285 to 144, with support from 199 Republicans.

Normally, groups like the Club for Growth would have decried passing a short-term debt limit extension that included no spending cuts, and the Tea Party members of the House would have revolted. Instead, the Club said they would essentially give House Republicans a pass by not including the debt ceiling extension on their congressional scorecard.

Chris Chocola, the Club's president, told HuffPost he wasn't sure if the debt ceiling move was a retreat, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) disparaged it on Monday, but that he was willing to give Boehner a moment to try to get his act together.

"The impression I'm getting is they're trying basically to have a plan and stay ahead of this a bit," he said. "There hasn't been evidence of a plan for the last couple battles … So it's a plan. We don't endorse what they're doing with the debt limit but we're not going to fight against it at this point until we see if they can execute their plan," he said.

"I don't know that I agree with their political calculation, but there's a plan. Going into the fiscal cliff -- if there was a plan, it wasn't evident to me," Chocola said. "It always seems to be a reaction rather than trying to get ahead of the issue."

It's far from a ringing endorsement, but for those in Boehner's office, it's a welcome moment where their base is not screaming at them.

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