By John Whitesides
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal sharply criticized his own party on Thursday for its narrow focus on Washington-based budget battles and said Republicans need to revamp their message if they hope to recover from November's painful election losses.
In a blunt speech certain to bolster speculation about his 2016 presidential ambitions, Jindal told Republican leaders they must "stop being the stupid party" and broaden their effort to appeal to every American voter.
"The Republican Party does not need to change our principles - but we might need to change just about everything else we do," Jindal told the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee.
Jindal said Republicans have become obsessed with the details of the political budget wars in Washington and have failed to spell out for voters across the country the party's core economic principles of growth.
"A debate about which party can better manage the federal government is a very small and shortsighted debate," Jindal said. "If our vision is not bigger than that, we do not deserve to win."
With his message to party leaders, who are in Charlotte to discuss ways to recover from November's election loss to President Barack Obama, Jindal clearly offered himself as someone who could help lead Republicans back to victory in 2016.
The party is looking for ways to appeal to growing minority voting blocs like Hispanics and Asians and to bolster their support among women, all of whom helped push Obama to victory over Republican nominee Mitt Romney in November.
Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, called for Republicans to reject identity politics and appeal to every American. He also took a clear swipe at Romney and his secretly recorded comment that 47 percent of Americans were government dependent and would not vote for him.
"We must compete for every single vote — the 47 percent and the 53 percent, and any other combination that adds up to 100 percent," Jindal said.
Jindal told party leaders it was time to "recalibrate the compass of conservatism" and focus on ideas to grow the economy in places beyond the Washington area.
He suggested re-thinking every social program operated by the federal government and dramatically reducing its size.
Conservative Republicans have fallen into a "sideshow trap" by focusing on budget battles with Obama over raising the debt limit and "fiscal cliff" spending cuts and tax increases, he said.
"Today's conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget," Jindal said. "We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping. This is a rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play."
Jindal's attack on congressional Republicans comes at a time when polls show their approval ratings have dropped into the low and mid-teens, making it relatively risk-free.
"We as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching - even conservative number crunching - is not the answer to our nation's problems," Jindal said.
"If you take nothing else away from what I say today, please understand this - we must not become the party of austerity. We must become the party of growth."
(Editing by Will Dunham)