Gov. Bobby Jindal just can’t seem to catch a break.
As the huge cast of Republican presidents-in-waiting prepares to gather at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for Wednesday’s second debate, the governor once again finds himself on the undercard rather than part of the main event.
If that situation was damaging to his prospects last month, when he and six fellow low-polling candidates missed a chance to appear before 24 million Fox News viewers alongside Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and the rest of the top 10, it’s looks like it’ll be worse now. Since August, one of the other candidates with at least some national stature, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has dropped out. And another, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, managed to parlay a strong performance at the earlier debate into an 11th spot on the big stage (Jindal got some decent reviews, too, but not the kind that caused the networks to do something about it). A third, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, has simply dropped out of the poll standings and pretty much out of sight.
That leaves Jindal lumped together with a handful of candidates with equally impressive titles but even sorrier prospects this year. South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham may be a talk show mainstay, but his campaign has been a solitary, quixotic affair. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, emerged in 2012 as the social conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, but voters appear to have moved on; while he won the Iowa caucuses last time, a recent Washington Post story recounted an appearance there at which not a single voter showed up. And has anyone heard a word out of former New York Gov. George Pataki since the last debate?
Jindal is actually waging a real campaign and does attract voters to his events, even though he has yet to make a move in the polls. He’ll show up with his game face on Wednesday, in the hope he’ll somehow manage to stand out.
But it’s growing clearer every day just how daunting a challenge that is. Every time Jindal tries to separate himself from the pack, it seems, he runs right into another candidate or two (or three).
Jindal’s far from alone in running on his record as governor. There are seven other current or former governors in the mix, each fighting an apparent voter preference for newcomers and, in several cases, equally poor reviews from their own constituents.
He once touted himself, with little notice, as the only candidate to produce a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. It was only after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued his own policy paper, though, that Jindal drew some notice for criticizing it.
Nor is he the only candidate seeking to own the field’s right flank on social issues. Jindal backed Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, but it was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who seized the moment and cozied up to her upon her release from prison, even as Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz stewed just out of camera shot.
And Jindal’s latest maneuver, a National Press Club speech and accompanying Twitter tirade against Trump for being unserious, narcissistic, clownish and so on, was overshadowed, as well. Jindal spent days hurling snarky insults Trump’s way — things like “No one loves Donald Trump like Donald Trump loves Donald Trump” and “The reason @realDonaldTrump has never read the Bible is because he’s not in it.” — but Fiorina once again stole his thunder.
Just before Jindal’s speech, Rolling Stone came out with a Trump profile in which the blatantly misogynistic billionaire is quoted disparaging the appearance of the only woman in the field.
“Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” Trump said.
Fiorina took the slight and ran with it, proudly owning every wrinkle she’s earned in 61 years, and her super PAC even produced a video extolling woman power. Expect their first face-to-face showdown Wednesday night to dominate most other story lines from the main debate, let alone the warmup match.
Jindal managed to get in a good line on the subject. “I think it’s pretty outrageous for him to be attacking anybody’s appearance when he looks like he’s got a squirrel sitting on his head,” the governor said.
But once again, it came from the sideline — a place Jindal just can’t seem to escape.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.