In explaining why Gov. Bobby Jindal is putting off his presidential decision until after mid-June, his top political adviser said the governor just wants to stay focused on his final legislative session.
That’s right. Stay.
OK, now that we’ve all had a good chuckle, let’s think about the implications of the news. Jindal’s announcement, issued via his campaign guru Timmy Teepell, ups the ante considerably on the governor’s agenda once lawmakers convene next month.
This isn’t the behavior of someone who is suddenly remembering who pays his salary.
Jindal’s still singularly focused on building his brand beyond Louisiana’s borders. He continues to assemble his team, which includes congressman-turned-lobbyist Bob Livingston as Super PAC chair, longtime campaign aides like fundraiser Allee Bautsch Grunewald and Teepell, and a smattering of operatives with national campaign experience.
He’s still traveling constantly, to early primary states and to media centers where he’s more likely to generate publicity. Just this week, MSNBC stumbled upon Jindal working out in a New York City gym and posted a slice-of-life story about his exercise habits; it piggybacks on another article from last fall about how, while other candidates try to slim down ahead of a big campaign, Jindal is bulking up, as a “source close to” the governor confessed to the National Review last year.
And he’s still publicly brushing off the fury his wanderlust has caused back home, as well as the embarrassing approval ratings and the widespread belief that he’s profoundly disengaged from matters important to Louisiana’s future.
That last part isn’t exactly working. Instead, word of Jindal’s problems at home has followed him on the road — so much so that he’s really got to generate some good news, and quickly, if he hopes to have any shot at all of being a player in the 2016 national campaign. To be blunt, he needs a win.
But what sort of win? On that front, Jindal’s options are pretty limited.
There’s Common Core, the education standards that Jindal once embraced, then denounced after realizing that they’re unpopular with some deeply conservative voters. Jindal last week announced a package of bills to basically override his old education reform allies and “crush” Common Core, as an email from his political operation put it. If he pulls that off, it would surely generate a few headlines, although Common Core advocates at the Department of Education, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the House and Senate education committees are just as committed to saving the program.
Then there’s the budget. Here, Jindal’s presenting few realistic or fiscally sound options to close the $1.6 billion shortfall. He’s said that he’ll withhold his approval from any move that violates a ridiculously narrow reading of Americans for Tax Reform’s no-new-tax pledge — a position that takes any number of ideas, including rolling back some tax credits that add little to the state’s bottom line, off the table.
As for more ambitious ideas that might solve long-term problems, well, it’s hard to see what he could put together on such short notice. Jindal’s also got little remaining leverage with lawmakers. He’s got no extra government money to funnel to anyone’s district, no leadership assignments to dole out, no re-election endorsement that anyone would want. His most powerful remaining weapon at this late stage is his veto pen.
Perhaps his best-case scenario is that he could escape the session with something he can pitch as a victory. Maybe a Common Core compromise that would, say, alter a label or two but leave the basics intact. Or a new revenue stream from a constitutional amendment that wouldn’t require a gubernatorial signature. Or maybe even money-raising legislation that lawmakers could adopt by overriding his veto. That way he’d preserve his hard-fought tax purity without getting tagged with draconian cuts. It wouldn’t be much, but maybe it would do the trick.
Jindal’s trying to run on his accomplishments, after all, which is really his only option, given how badly his forays into foreign policy have flopped. Just this week, in yet another national interview on “Fox and Friends,” he admitted as much.
“I do tend to think our nominee — and I’ve been saying this for a while — should be a reform-minded, a conservative governor, somebody who’s got a proven track record,” he said.
If Jindal wants voters to think that description fits him, though, he’s still got a lot of proving to do. And not much time.