After reading Sunday’s front-page Washington Post profile of Gov. Bobby Jindal, I’m almost tempted to feel sorry for the guy.
Okay, not really. Jindal’s got nobody but himself to blame for his dreadful poll ratings at home and his low ranking in — and sometimes absence from — presidential surveys. He’s put his national ambitions ahead of his duty to Louisiana, and yet he’s failing to win over the out-of-state activists who are busy handicapping the huge 2016 field.
Still, David Fahrenthold’s entertaining but brutal story made me wonder what it must feel for Jindal to lose his touch, to no longer be able to wow people on command and will his way into prominence. It depicts a journey everyone back home has watched, from rising star to somewhat pathetic figure so desperate for attention that he emerges looking even more pitiable.
That bizarre news release in which Jindal announced that he “refuses to condemn” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for claiming that President Barack Obama doesn’t love America? Well, nobody asked him, the story notes. It also points out that, despite Jindal’s five visits to early primary state South Carolina, presumably sympathetic ground for a God-invoking southern governor, poll-takers there have detected so little interest that they’ve stopped including him among the options.
Most of us don’t make it past fourth grade without experiencing a setback, and learning the usual lessons of humility and perseverance. Jindal, improbably, made it to his 40s. No wonder he seems so lost these days.
Consider his history.
Jindal’s trying on every possible identity, from good old boy to immigrants’ son, policy wonk to right wing warrior who stands in contrast to weak-kneed Washington insiders.
And why wouldn’t he think he could be all things to all people? He did it before, in 2003 when he made his first gubernatorial run. Back then, Jindal easily fused his uncompromising social conservatism with a pragmatic, data-driven approach that impressed centrists and good-government types. It wasn’t enough to drive him to victory, but the campaign set the stage for his coronation in later races for Congress and governor.
Why wouldn’t he assume he’d easily endear himself to party elders, regular voters and the media? That’s how it’s always worked out for him in the past. If not, he’d never have been able to convince then-Gov. Mike Foster to put him in charge of the Department of Health and Hospitals at the ripe old age of 24, or to simply shoulder past heir apparent Steve Scalise when the 1st Congressional District seat opened up in 2005.
Why wouldn’t he be able to finesse his big-time flip-flop on Common Core? He’s done that before, too, back in his first term, when he first tried to stop lawmakers from repealing the Stelly income tax hikes and then happily claimed the tax cut as his own after he realized he couldn’t stop it.
And why shouldn’t he consider himself presidential material? People have been telling him he has a limitless future for years.
Everything in Jindal’s career, at least until recently, surely would lead him to believe he belongs on the national stage.
Well, maybe not everything. Jindal’s high-profile response to Obama’s first Congressional address in 2009 was insipid and amateurish, particularly when measured against the president’s skillful speech.
His blistering criticism of the Romney campaign following the 2012 election earned him nothing but scorn from some party insiders. His attempt to eliminate state income taxes back home invoked so much opposition that he had to drop it on the first day of the Legislative session.
None of that seemed to shake his confidence, though. Maybe seeing his travails splashed across the front page of a major national newspaper finally will.
The question is: Where does he go from here?