Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spelled out his strongly conservative economic views in a forceful presentation Wednesday as part of the night’s second-tier event on the CNBC cable network, which presented the third series of national debates among Republican candidates for the White House in 2016.
“Of all these folks talking, I’m the only one that has cut the size of government,” Jindal said on stage at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “Let’s shrink the government economy. Let’s grow the American economy.”
Jindal was something of a reluctant participant Wednesday in the one-hour debate, conducted under the rubric of “Your money, your vote.” Relegated, for the third time in the three nationally televised debates, to the so-called undercard — the “happy hour” debate among also-rans that precedes the main event among better-polling candidates — Jindal has maintained that the criteria used to sort the field are misguided.
But ultimately, he decided to show up, joining the three candidates who also appeared with him in the previous junior varsity debate, on CNN Sept. 21: former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, former New York Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina.
Jindal staked out a conservative position that ranked as the most doctrinaire among the four, defending his tax plan that would add trillions of dollars to the federal deficit unless substantial cuts make up the difference. But Jindal said those cuts, amounting to 22 percent of federal spending over 10 years, aren’t unreasonable.
“I purposely shrink the size of government,” Jindal said.
“We’re going the way of Europe,” he said. “The left is trying to turn the American dream into the European nightmare,” he added, repeating one of his standard campaign lines.
“We have a chance to rescue the idea of America.”
Jindal was asked about criticisms of his state budget policies by Louisiana Republicans, including state Treasurer John Kennedy, who termed one Jindal tax-and-cut scheme “nonsense on a stick,” and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who has said that he won’t be like Jindal if he wins the November election to succeed him.
Jindal vigorously defended his record, repeating his standard litany: He cut 30,000 employees from the state payroll during his two terms in office and reduced the state budget by 26 percent, while producing eight upgrades for the state’s credit rating and pushing Louisiana into the top 10 states in private sector job creation. He also said he balanced the state budget for eight years without raising taxes, which — as Kennedy suggested — is not true: His last budget included a cigarette-tax increase and other revenue increases, offset by phantom credits.
But Jindal was not the only candidate on the stage who touted his conservative economic record as leader of a state. Pataki said he cut taxes more in New York than did the other 49 states combined.
Santorum delivered a strong defense of the Export-Import Bank, a federal financing agency targeted by far-right Republicans as corporate welfare; its charter lapsed June 30, but moderate Republicans are Democrats in Congress are advancing is reauthorization. And Graham, typically, tied economics to his hawkish military positions: “Without national security, there is no economic security,” he said.
Otherwise, Jindal’s fellow debaters slotted into familiar roles: Graham, the wise-cracking defense hawk who links nearly every issue to national defense; Santorum, the populist champion of the working class; Pataki, the pragmatist who can work with Democrats to get things done.
Jindal has urged the networks televising the debates to look to the candidates’ standing in the states that decide early in the nomination process instead of applying national poll results, which he says largely reflect name recognition.
But that hasn’t happened, nor does it appear Jindal’s argument will prevail for the next debates, scheduled for Nov. 10 in Milwaukee.
Fox Business News, which will televise the Nov. 10 affair, announced Tuesday that it, too, will divide the field into two unequal flights — and that it will draw on national poll results to make the selection.
Jindal has struggled to gain traction in his campaign, consistently lagging the field in polls as he has worn a variety of hats: fiery evangelical Christian defending religious liberty, experienced budget cutter and balancer, serious policy proposer, implacable foe of the Washington establishment, sharp-tongued critic of Democratic President Barack Obama, even sharper-tongued critic of Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
CNBC reserved its top slots for candidates who averaged 2.5 percent or better in polls by the major broadcast networks and Bloomberg from Sept. 17 through Oct. 21. Jindal fell well short, averaging 0.33 percent in the specified polls. He qualified for the undercard by registering 1 percent or better in at least one of those polls (he actually scored 1 percent in two of them).
FBN will use essentially the same criteria, except that its window will include the four most recent national surveys leading up to Nov. 4. Barring a significant uptick in his polling, Jindal seems unlikely to make the top tier. He runs a decent risk of failing to qualify altogether. The Nov. 10 debate also will sound an economic theme.
The 10 candidates making the prime-time cut Wednesday also made it Sept. 16, although their positions in the polls have changed some since then, and that was reflected in where they stood on stage. Trump, a rich New York real-estate developer and reality-TV celebrity, remained at No. 1, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, of Maryland; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, of California; U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky; Ohio Gov. John Kasich; and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Jindal, 44, is barred by state law from a third term for governor starting in 2016.
Follow Gregory Roberts on Twitter @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/