Who’s running for president in 2016? Who’s up? Who’s down? Those are the questions that have the chattering class in Washington all atwitter, and all over Twitter, these days. All potential candidates have their own lines they use to deflect reporter’s questions about whether or not they will run for president in 2016. The one I like at present is “I don’t know.” I settled on this one because it is the truth, which is not a bad fallback position when all else fails.
Of course, there’s no satisfying the press’s appetite for all this 2016 speculation, and that’s fine—none of it matters in real life. The whole thing is ridiculous and we are getting way ahead of ourselves.
Republicans winning the White House in 2016 is crucial. If Obamacare is still the law of the land, there will be the monumental task of repealing the law and replacing it with a conservative, market-based model that works—while undoing the damage it has done to our economy in meantime. The next president will be faced with unweaving the Obama administration’s massive web of unnecessary environmental regulations that are stifling our energy sector and hindering our ability to be energy independent. Passing a balanced-budget amendment, lowering tax rates, fixing future government spending as a percentage of GDP, restoring America’s global reputation—the list goes on and on.
But the fact of the matter is that we in the Republican Party are not yet prepared to take on the task of winning back the White House. And our lack of preparation has nothing to do with candidates—it has to do with our agenda. The voters know that we oppose Obama. What they don’t really know is what we would do if they gave us the car keys. How would we reform and improve education? What is our plan for health care, once we repeal Obamacare? How will we make America energy independent? What exactly will we do to stop our entitlement programs from going bankrupt? And how will we get America’s economy growing again? The voters demand answers to these questions. And they deserve them.
So here’s an idea about 2016—who cares who is going to run in 2016? Well, yes, reporters do, political insiders do, people in the 202 telephone area code do, but that’s about it. So let’s call a halt to candidate-guessing parlor games. Answering the question of what should be done is more important than the question of who our nominee will be. We need to focus on substance more than personality. Or, as Margaret Thatcher said, you have to win the argument before you can win the election.
In any case, next year’s elections are the ones that matter. I believe the most important election is the next one, not the one after the next one. It’s been my honor over the past year to chair the Republican Governors Association. And for my money, the real action is out in the states, where we have 36 gubernatorial races in 2014.
It’s not that I’m disinterested in the House and Senate elections, but the truth is that the real conservative reform happening today is in the states. And with many strong Republican governors running for re-election, the outlook for four more years of conservative reform is plenty bright. The forecast in the nation’s capital, meanwhile, is a wintery mix—cloudy with a 100 percent chance of debt and taxation, and a sprinkling of incompetence.
The Democratic Party’s control of Washington has led to devastating policies on a broad array of issues, from health care to the economy, and there are lots of voices on our side with different opinions on how to go about fixing them. But there is no question that Republicans in the federal government are not united in presenting a clear policy agenda, and the media do us no favors by highlighting party infighting every chance they get. As a result, our brand is badly damaged.
But not in the states, where Republican governors are leading the way with successful records that can help us win elections again. Gov. Rick Perry, for instance, has turned Texas into one of the best job-creation engines in the country. Gov. Brian Sandoval in Nevada has successfully passed education reform, making it easier to hold poor performing teachers accountable. Gov. Nikki Haley in South Carolina has succeeded in passing tort reform and tax relief for small businesses. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has restored fiscal sanity and added more than 350,000 new private sector jobs.
There are many more examples of Republican governors’ successes, but the point is that conservative reforms are working in the states. That’s the roadmap for winning in 2016. But first, we need to go out and win the war of ideas and the elections in 2014.
Bobby Jindal is governor of Louisiana. This piece originally appeared at POLITICO.