Bobby Jindal restated his views on modernizing the GOP in an op-ed yesterday:
We are the party whose ideas will help the middle class, and help more folks join the middle class. We are a populist party and need to make that clear.
If Jindal believes that Republicans already are a populist party, that implies that he doesn’t think it needs to do very much to become one. It’s all very well to say that Republican ideas “will help the middle class,” but this continues to run the risk of simply asserting that they do when there isn’t much reason to believe it. Republican candidates can’t make it clear that theirs is a populist party when they tend to shy away from most ideas that might be reasonably described as populist.
Most of Jindal’s recommendations aren’t bad ones as far as they go, but as an argument for modernization there isn’t much to it. Four of his seven suggestions are concerned with presentation and messaging: 1) look forward; 2) compete for every vote; 3) articulate plans in detail; 4) respect voters’ intelligence. These are things that the last two Republican presidential tickets and many other Republican candidates have done very poorly, and it makes sense to adopt these recommendations, but it’s important to recognize that this does nothing to modernize the party. Another one of Jindal’s suggestions might sound appealing at first, but it gets something important wrong. He writes:
We must stop competing with Democrats for the job of “Government Manager,” and come up with ideas that can unleash the dynamic abilities of the American people.
These two aren’t mutually exclusive, and the former is probably much more important insofar as Republicans are losing elections because the public does not trust them to govern competently. Until the GOP regains its reputation for competence, or at least gives people a reason to believe that it is interested in the competent running of government, it won’t be and shouldn’t be trusted with the responsibility of governing.
Perhaps because his own interests are in domestic policy and because he is a governor, Jindal barely touches on foreign policy and national security. Having squandered a lot of its credibility on these issues, the GOP needs to review its assumptions here more than almost anywhere else. Few things cry out for more modernization than Republican foreign policy thinking, which at best remains stuck in the early 2000s and at worst remains wedded to an entirely outdated understanding of the U.S. role in the world more suited to the early 1990s than now. This continues to be a major blind spot for most national Republicans, including Jindal, whose throwaway line about “American weakness on the world stage” shows how much he and other members of his party rely on “mindless slogans” when it comes to discussing foreign policy.