Bobby Jindal’s rise shows that GOP reform is all cosmetic

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) (Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) (Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

Since November, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has successfully positioned himself as a reformist outsider, despite his clear commitment to the same right-wing policies championed by all sides of the GOP divide, from tea party Republicans like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to establishment-minded lawmakers like Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

The past year of Jindal’s tenure, in fact, has been defined by steady progress on a wish list of conservative policies. Under Jindal, Louisiana has expanded its voucher system, rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, passed onerous new anti-abortion laws, and is poised to accept a massive overhaul of its tax code, replacing income and corporate taxes with a large new sales tax. The latter policy, in particular, will place a huge burden on ordinary Louisianans. To maintain the state’s current revenues under the new tax plan, notes the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Louisiana would have to double its sales tax revenue. “For households that don’t pay income taxes and save little or no income, this amounts to close to a 4 percentage point drop in after-tax income.”

Writing for Politico, Emily Schulthesis notes that this is clear evidence Jindal is positioning himself for a presidential run in 2016, despite his protests to the contrary:

Jindal’s bold policy proposals in Louisiana come at the same time he’s raising his profile nationally, both through his new post as head of the Republican Governors Association and his frequent commentary on the future of the Republican Party. He turned heads last month when he warned the GOP needs to “stop being the stupid party.” …

“You can’t say Jindal is extremely popular in Louisiana any longer, but you also have to give him credit because some of the stuff he’s done is very popular with [Republican] voters,” [Louisiana pollster Bernie] Pinsonat said.

From the moment Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential nomination — and entered the general election — he was at a disadvantage. Why? Because winning the nomination required him to adopt the full suite of right-wing policies, from Ryan’s budget plans to aggressive attacks on reproductive rights and immigration reform.

Jindal’s maneuvering makes clear that — immigration aside — little has changed about the Republican landscape. Anyone who wants to win the 2016 presidential nomination will have to appeal to the same right-wing base that — at various points — elevated Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. In other words, Republican reform will remain cosmetic. The GOP will have impressive diversity on the candidate level, and the same commitment to right-wing policies that has defined the party for the last four years.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.

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