Washington — When Gov. Bobby Jindal declared June 24 that he’s a candidate for president, it didn’t exactly come as a surprise.
After all, he had acted like a candidate for months: traveling repeatedly to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — three states that decide early in the 2016 nominating process — to appear at forums and events with other Republican contenders, setting up fundraising vehicles to support a run and delivering statements on foreign and national policy in a variety of venues.
Nor did his activities go unnoticed. Jindal actually displayed something of a knack for attracting attention, in part because of his penchant for remarks that are provocative and sometimes clever.
In a speech in London in January, he invoked the specter of Muslim “no-go zones” scattered across Europe, a claim that has been widely discredited. In February, when Democratic President Barack Obama compared evil deeds by radical Islamists to excesses committed by Christians during the Crusades, Jindal offered to guard the nation against medieval Christians if only Obama would ward off Muslim extremists. A few weeks later, when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he doubted that Obama loves his country, Jindal volunteered a defense of Giuliani. A few days after that, he stood outside the White House and declared that Obama is unfit to serve as commander in chief. In May, after the Louisiana Legislature rejected a “religious liberty” bill that Jindal favored, he issued an executive order to effect the legislation by fiat, inviting derision by prominent corporations and liberal critics who regarded the measure as a thinly veiled assault on same-sex couples.
Nonetheless, it seems the media focus on Jindal has ratcheted up a notch in the aftermath of his announcement, based on an entirely unscientific sampling of Google alerts and other online tracking mechanisms.
On the day after Jindal’s announcement, the Washington Post revived the story of Jindal’s participation in an exorcism (although he didn’t call it that) while he was a student at Brown University — an experience Jindal wrote about more than 20 years ago for a Catholic periodical. The Post published an editorial on Jindal that day, too, under the headline “How Bobby Jindal Lost His Way.” That evening, Jindal got the Jon Stewart treatment on “The Daily Show,” with Stewart ridiculing Jindal’s cinéma vérité pre-announcement video with his family (and Stewart wasn’t the only one).
Much of the chatter bubbled up on Internet news sites and blogs. In the digital age, there appears to be no shortage of pajamahadeen ready to dissect a candidate’s record in search of gaffes and contradictions. So it was that Right Wing Watch ran an article — after the June 26 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding same-sex marriage nationwide — noting that while Jindal was proclaiming the right of court clerks in Louisiana to decline on religious grounds to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he had in 2009 harshly criticized a Tangipahoa Parish justice of the peace who refused a license to an interracial couple (although the justice of the peace did not cite a religious objection). Versha Sharma, an Indian-American woman from Louisiana, posted a YouTube video faulting Jindal for distancing himself from his Indian heritage; she’s promoting the hashtag #BringBackPiyush, a reference to Jindal’s given name. Similar sentiments surfaced on Twitter in India, around #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite — which is getting a run from #Jindian.
Some of this, no doubt, is occasioned by the announcement itself. But Jindal has not lost his flair for eyebrow-raising remarks: He has suggested the nation could save some money by simply eliminating the Supreme Court, and he claims that computer hackers in Russia and China are likely to read Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s personal-account emails from when she was secretary of state before the American public gets a chance to see them.
Jindal’s entry into the race certainly was cheered by many supporters in Louisiana and beyond, and not all the coverage has been negative. But Jindal may welcome whatever attention he gets, so long as they spell his name right. He has consistently lagged the large Republican field in the polls, and he is hoping for a “bounce” from his announcement that will vault him into the top 10 and qualify him for the main stage in the first nationally televised debate Aug. 6. At this point, it’s a little early to tell if he’s succeeding.
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog.
Editor's Note: This story was changed on July 7, 2015, to correct the date that Gov. Bobby Jindal declared his candidacy for president.