Boy, there sure are a lot of Republican politicians in poor odor with the voting public who want to opine about the future of the party nowadays, no? The latest is Bobby Jindal, the former Louisiana governor who ran for president in 2016 after having sabotaged the GOP’s hopes of holding the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge out of a petty personal rivalry with David Vitter. Jindal never got away from the kids’ table in the GOP debate field; the only thing anybody really remembers from that campaign was his sniping and screeching at Donald Trump over his “tone” and other stylistic preferences.
Trump went on to get more votes in Louisiana than Jindal, and Jindal will never be a factor in his home state’s politics again.
Now, alongside longtime GOP establishment consultant and halting NeverTrumper Alex Castellanos, Jindal is back with an op-ed in Newsweek demanding that we have Trumpism without Trump.
Since his November loss, no one worked harder to get rid of Donald Trump than Donald Trump. Right up until the end, he was his own worst enemy. But though he left the White House under a dark cloud, facing a historic second impeachment, Trump has not been completely defeated. As long as he remains the exclusive representative of Trumpism, he will be the most popular Republican in the country. Unless the GOP creates an alternative version of Trumpism, without Trump, he’ll be back.
The failures of the ruling class made Trump’s ascent possible. He channeled pent-up working-class rage against a bicoastal, bipartisan establishment more interested in its own preservation than the people’s welfare. Urban elites profited from globalism, unfair trade deals and the shift from tangible, blue-collar work to a high-tech service-based economy.
Those at the top of the pyramid prospered from liberal immigration policies. They cheered military conflicts fought by other people’s children. They took to the streets and marched in support of ethnic and gender-based grievances that ennobled them as “woke.” They held up placards for apocalyptic environmentalism while dismissing the legitimate economic and cultural anxieties of working people.
Trump remains the mirror in which our ruling class sees its complete failure and undeserved stature. They cannot stare for long without seeing what 74 million other Americans did, so they strike out at the mirror to shatter it. Never have they asked, “What have we done so wrong that made half of America prefer him?”
Working-class anger at America’s nobility is not going to magically dissipate, even with Trump out of Washington, no matter how well-clothed the emperors pretend to be. The challenge for Republicans is to channel that intensity into a more positive, uplifting version of Trumpism—one that is optimistic, aspirational and universal.
Republicans must jettison Trump’s demeanor, but pick up where Trump’s policies left off. They should fight the concentration of political and economic power that has benefitted technology and financial giants, gather allies to force China to compete economically on a level playing field and reshape the government’s spending, immigration, trade and tax policies to benefit the working class. They can show how an open economy, bottom-up growth and limited government can empower and enrich working-class Americans more than any old, top-down, artificial program. These policies will benefit working-class and all Americans willing to invest their labor and talents towards living even bigger American dreams.
The siren songs of unity and bipartisanship will tempt Republicans to revert to complacency, as a satisfied but ineffective minority. Trump understood it is impossible to gain traction without friction. Republicans must take their ideological opponents seriously, and fight for their principles with passion worthy of the stakes. Trump stood up to the political correctness mob and refused to play by their rules, or apologize for it. His supporters fear cancel culture will come for them now that he is gone, and Republicans must convince them they have the backbone to fight.
Trump built a multi-ethnic coalition of working-class voters because he fused populism and conservatism. A renewed populist conservatism would give Republicans a chance to build a durable majority coalition, but Sen. Bernie Sanders‘s left-wing populism beckons if they fail.
The Left and its media enablers are eager to dispose of both Trump and Trumpism. They want to undo his policies, erase his legacy, turn the clock back and reassure themselves the last four years were an aberration. The challenge for Republicans is to separate Trump from Trumpism, and there is a lot in Trumpism that is essential. Many conservatives would not miss Trump, the man, if they could preserve the ideas that were making America great.
It’s not that what Jindal and Castellanos write is untrue. Fundamentally this is correct – as Frank Miele, writing at RealClearPolitics yesterday from a different perspective, notes, Trump isn’t so much a leader as a reflector of the times – but the problem the Jindals of the world have is credibility.
Look, it isn’t all that hard to see that working-class America has never been more disgusted with elite America, and while that’s a disconnect which is no good it’s also the environment for a golden opportunity for the Republican Party. The fact of the matter is that elite America is utterly depraved, devoid of merit by any comparative historical measure and arrogant beyond comprehension. There are Hollywood celebrities acting to incentivize their own children to become transgender, when statistically two in five people who attempt to live contrary to their own biology will attempt suicide. That kind of cultural dysfunction, which is being actively pushed by corporate media, academia and every other cultural entity controlled by our coastal elites, simply cannot stand, and it is fueling a level of angst and rejection among common Americans which is spiraling.
For a long time the Right was in a disorganized retreat in the culture wars, with the only ones bothering to stand and fight being religious conservatives who were demonized by their own ideological compatriots, particularly those who identified themselves as upper-class, as uncool. Well, the upper crust absolutely failed, and what used to be discussions about abstinence instead of free birth control to kids became discussions about gay marriage, became discussions about transgender bathrooms, and now it’s girls having to compete against biological men for spots on the track team and single men being called bigots for rejecting homosexual relationships with tranvestites.
Those religious conservatives refusing to bake the cake for the gay wedding don’t look all that stupid anymore, do they?
And while Jindal as governor didn’t commit many culture-war sins, he sure did attack Trump for his boorish tone, didn’t he?
Trump at least stood up and fought this battle, knowing that he would be pilloried by the corporate media for his trouble. Did the establishment GOP? No. And look what they wrought.
The issue is credibility. OK, so you want Trumpism without Trump? Who’s going to provide that?
There are, actually, people who fit that bill. Ron DeSantis is one. Kristi Noem is another. But for the fact he’s become a divisive figure in certain circles Ted Cruz has credibility along those lines. Mike Pompeo definitely does. Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley aren’t bad actors in this play.
But anybody who put themselves out there as Trump critics, as Jindal did while he was getting waxed by Trump in the preseason of the 2016 GOP primary race, simply doesn’t get to spend time in this sandbox.
There are lots of folks out there who like the idea of a 2.0 version of the MAGA/America First political approach. We can even distill it down to a five-point version of Reagan’s old three-legged conservative stool. Reagan’s formulation of conservative politics as fervent anti-communism, supply-side economics and social conservatism isn’t totally obsolete so much as it’s lost its compelling character given the events of the day.
Instead, there are five elements to MAGA conservatism which could certainly outlive Trump atop the ticket, and they’re not hard to identify. It’s strange that Jindal and Castellanos didn’t bother to outline them. They are…
- Resisting China and its rise as the single largest threat to human liberty on the planet;
- Protecting the American working class’ wages and working conditions by controlling and managing immigration;
- Keeping our economy open for entrepreneurship and small business growth by restricting, if not breaking up, oligopolistic companies like Walmart, Amazon and Google;
- Rolling back the political and legal corruption of the Left which has created a dual-track legal system for elites and common Americans; and
- Breaking the power of American elites to corrupt and degrade our cultural institutions with things like wokeism, cancel culture and Critical Race Theory.
You don’t need Trump to push those things and win with them. But you do need somebody with enough stones to fight these battles tooth and nail.
The problem with Jindal demanding Trumpism without Trump is he thinks he gets there with budget austerity and tax policy, which shows he doesn’t get it. Tax policy might become a bigger deal after Joe Biden is done with us, but right now tax cuts for Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg will win you absolutely no votes whatsoever. In fact, you might even attract some of the Bernie Sanders crowd, many of whom see a lot of the same deficiencies in modern America that Trump voters do but aren’t clear-eyed enough to understand Sanders’ remedies only make things worse, by coming up with ways to savage Bezos and Zuckerberg with tax increases that wouldn’t hit more ordinarily successful Americans.
And of course, the other problem is that nobody thinks conventional Republican figures have the testicular fortitude to fight all day and night the way Trump did. Everybody expects it’s a matter of time before the Bobby Jindals of the world make their separate peace with the Left and abandon the fight.
Is that fair? That’s debatable, but it’s where we are. There are valid arguments against Trump as the nominee in 2024 – it’s notable that Jindal and Castellanos didn’t bother to raise the easiest one, which is that Trump will be 78 years old and in Joe Biden you’re seeing what a 78 year old man in the White House looks like – but none of those arguments even get a hearing if their makers are thought to be secretly trying to return the GOP to its failed Bush Republican past.
That’s a non-starter. Until the Jindals of the world are willing to repudiate Bush-era Failure Theater conservatism, we really don’t care what else they have to say – especially when it comes to Trump.