It may seem borderline insane to even consider the 2016 presidential race so soon after an interminable race — one that literally brought the nation's children to tears — culminated in President Obama's re-election. Yet up-and-coming politicians in the Republican Party are doing just that, rushing in to fill a leadership void left by Mitt Romney, whose controversial claim that Obama only won because he showered "gifts" on younger voters, women, and minorities has pushed him further into the political wilderness. Indeed, these first few post-election weeks are arguably critical for 2016 contenders, says Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo. "Republican leaders are suddenly free to test out new messages and positions that previously would have been heretical," and "these early forays into uncharted territory could bolster their standing within the GOP" when primary season officially rolls around. Here, 4 signs the 2016 GOP primary has already started:
1. Bobby Jindal slams Romney's 'gifts'
The governor of Louisiana is vocally arguing that the GOP party must make its economic platform more inclusive. "We've got to make sure that we are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything," he recently told Politico. "We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys." Jindal, a Romney surrogate during the campaign, denounced Mitt's "gifts" remark, saying it only bolstered the impression that the GOP views large portions of the electorate as moochers. "I absolutely reject that notion," he said. "We have got to stop dividing the American voters."
2. Marco Rubio takes the lead on immigration
Post-election, the Cuban-American senator from Florida has been quick to address the party's problem with Latino voters, a fast-growing demographic that overwhelmingly voted for Obama. "It's really hard to get people to listen to you if they think you want to deport their grandmother," he said on Thursday. "I know people that are [undocumented]. I know people who love people that are in this circumstance." Beyond putting a more empathetic spin on the GOP's immigration position, Rubio has said he's "hopeful" that lawmakers in Congress can pass legislation that will address the fate of some 11 million undocumented workers.
3. Rand Paul goes for the youth vote
The junior senator from Kentucky, a Tea Party favorite, opposes all kinds of government spending, which already positions him to occupy a far-right niche in a Republican primary field. But Paul is putting a libertarian twist on the standard Tea Party formula in a bid to entice younger voters, another demographic that heavily favored Obama. He wants to work with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to "eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for pot possession," says Manu Raju at Politico, while "pushing for less U.S. military intervention in conflicts overseas." And he, too, is calling for an "eventual path" to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
4. Paul Ryan faces off against Obama — again
Fresh off the drubbing his ticket took in the election, Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, returns to Capitol Hill just as high-wire budget negotiations are set to begin between Obama and Speaker John Boehner. And Boehner has tapped Ryan, who has claimed that Obama does not have a mandate to raise taxes on the wealthy, as a member of his budget team. "The move comes as welcome news to House conservatives," says Russell Berman at The Hill, who have called for "Ryan to take a central role in the fiscal negotiations." Some say Ryan is the de facto leader of the party at the moment, and the decisions he makes in the following weeks, most crucially on whether to compromise with Obama, could reveal how he intends to position himself in 2016.
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