With the onset of the holiday season, a lot of politicians are praying about whether to run for president in 2016.
For months, Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he’d be “thinking and praying” about a presidential run. In the meantime, he also has been acting an awful lot like a candidate: raising money, criticizing the president, visiting foreign lands, campaigning for fellow Republicans, speaking at conservative forums and visiting Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate who gives millions of dollars to favored Republican candidates.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the son of a preacher, said last week, “I spend a lot of time not just talking with people but praying about, thinking about with my family as well whether or not eventually that might be a call to run for the presidency.”
Another preacher’s kid, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says he expects candidates to announce between January and June.
National GOP strategists say the field will be pretty much set by March. Going into the November 2008 presidential election, the last one with no incumbent running, the major candidates from both parties had announced by the end of February 2007.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, and a frontrunner in many polls, told liberal comedian Bill Maher last week that he would wait until early spring. Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he has until May or June.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has led in several polls, wants to know whether running for president is right for himself, his family and the country. If the answer is “yes” to all three, he says, he will run. Like Jindal, Christie is a Roman Catholic who has been spending Sundays in evangelical Protestant churches.
The early primary states — particularly Iowa and South Carolina — have a large voting contingent of socially conservative Republicans. Successful GOP candidates need to profess devotion to Christianity, or least be comfortable with religious terms and ideas.
Several polls were released last week, and like the earlier ones, Jindal scored in the single digits.
Polls mean little this early in the process. In the year before the January 2012 Iowa caucuses, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum routinely scored in the single digits. But he won Iowa by 34 votes.
Over the summer, Jindal told Christian Broadcast Network News that his decision would come after the Nov. 4 elections.
By October, Jindal was saying, “If I were to stay in politics, it would involve the 2016 running for president. There’s no other elective office I would seek,” adding that his decision would be made “after the holidays.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” a few weeks later, Jindal said he’d decide in the first half of 2015. “We are praying about this,” he added.
Jindal’s press office says when the governor weighs an important decision he seeks guidance from Bible verse James 1:5 — “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God”— and Matthew 7:7-8 — “Ask and it will be given to you.”
But what does prayerful consideration actually mean?
During a recent trip to Baton Rouge, retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who, like Jindal, was a Rhodes Scholar, gave a clue to how he decided to run for president back in 2004.
At the time, Clark had dropped hints and appeared on television giving expert advice. He had met with big funders and mentioned, whenever possible, how groups had formed to recruit him.
Like Julius Caesar before him, Clark repeatedly refused the honor but the rabblement continued hooting and clapping their chapped hands.
His wife Gertrude had enough and ordered the former supreme allied commander of NATO to make up his mind. She would go out for a walk.
Clark said he read from the Bible for inspiration. His favorite passage was Psalm 55 — “Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.”
He lay his head down looking for divine inspiration. Suddenly the phone rang and a man with a deep, sonorous voice said, “Wes, you must run.”
Turned out it was Tom Johnson, a press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson who later was head of CNN, Clark said.
When Gertrude returned, she asked, “ ‘What’s the decision?’ And I said, ‘I guess I’m going to run.’ And she said, ‘OK, that’s a decision.’ ”
Clark was in the race for five months, won Oklahoma, and came in second in North Dakota, New Mexico and Arizona.
All in all, Clark said, the experience “was like jumping into (New York City’s) East River, saying you’re going to sail to England with two logs under your arms.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard @theadvocate.com.