Washington — At the outset of his speech Thursday to the National Press Club, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared that in his presentation, he would be putting aside his personal political mission and his campaign for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.
He then proceeded to do nothing of the sort, launching into an extended attack on the current front-runner for the GOP nomination, the billionaire developer and reality TV celebrity Donald Trump. Trump, Jindal said, is an “unserious, unstable narcissist,” an “egomaniac,” a “carnival act” who is “shallow” and “doesn’t know anything about policy.”
Jindal couched his speech as a patriotic effort to wrest the nation off its disastrous path toward socialism under Democratic President Barack Obama. Should Trump win the Republican nomination, Jindal said, he would surely lose the general election, handing victory to the Democrats and their left-wing agenda. Such an outcome, he said, would squander a prime opportunity for an authentically conservative Republican to take the White House, as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is a vulnerable candidate running an inept campaign.
“We can win right now, or we can be the biggest fools of all time,” Jindal said.
“It’s time to get serious about saving the country,” he said. “It’s time to send Donald Trump back to reality TV.”
Any attempt by Jindal to wrap himself in a cloak of disinterested altruism was compromised before and after his Press Club appearance. His campaign spread the word of what he was up to in advance, and one of his consultants acknowledged that the motivation for the speech included generating headlines for Jindal (which it did). Jindal doubled down on the Trump offensive with a tweeted video and a campaign ad mocking Trump, and he kept up the assault in the media.
Trump reacted to Jindal in typical Trump fashion, tweeting, “I only respond to people that register more than 1% in the polls. I never thought he had a chance and I’ve been proven right.”
That was reminiscent of Trump’s remark in July after Jindal criticized his disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally: Trump belittled Jindal as a candidate “at zero” in the polls.
Jindal foreshadowed his Thursday performance, in a humorous way, when he said in August that he would start randomly dropping Trump’s name into speeches in order to attract attention, hoping to capitalize on the media’s fascination with Trump’s rise in the polls. At the Press Club, Jindal called out Trump by name more than 20 times in his 11-minute speech.
It’s hard to fault Jindal for his effort to gain notice by bashing Trump: Nothing else seems to be working.
Jindal, who is barred by term limits from seeking a third term as governor this year, has effectively been running for president for many months, and he and his supporters have amassed nearly $10 million to back the effort. But Trump’s representation of Jindal’s standing in the national polls is pretty much on target: Jindal consistently scores in the low single digits, at the back of the crowded Republican field.
Trump, meanwhile, keeps climbing in the surveys, far outdistancing his rivals and running close to 30 percentage points ahead of Jindal. Trump’s fans seem untroubled by his bombast, his braggadocio or his offensive comments about women and Mexicans. Nor are they perturbed by his lack of policy chops, or his absence of a consistent and principled conservative record.
If anything, the Republican electorate at this point celebrates Trump for just those characteristics: He’s the anti-politician, a candidate who has never held public office and pays no heed to the axioms of acceptable discourse.
He is taking the wind out of the sails of the current and former elected officials running against him. The only candidates seeing any kind of a bounce in recent weeks are the other contenders with no experience in government: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and, to a lesser extent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
That does not bode especially well for Jindal. At 44, he has spent virtually his entire working life on a government payroll, first as a state and federal bureaucrat, then as a member of Congress and lastly as governor.
Nor does it seem that his reputation as a policy wonk will win him many points among today’s Republican voters. The anti-Trump suit fits him, but it is out of fashion.
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he is on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.