Stephanie Grace: Bobby Jindal talking good game on campaign trail, but his Louisiana record tripping him up _lowres

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s editorial board interview at New Hampshire’s Union Leader newspaper last week streamed live on the Internet, but you don’t need to have tuned in to know that it went well.

Jindal emerged from the meeting with the influential, conservative paper with not one but two glowing editorials to add to his clip file. The first — and I’m not making this up — carried the headline “Jindal and Jesus: Courage of his Convictions,” and lauded him for using his adopted faith to inform his life and decisions.

The second congratulated the governor for having the “good idea” that “it’s not enough to just be against ‘Obamacare.’ Republicans ought to pass something.” The headline to this piece read: “More than lip service: Gov. Jindal wants GOP to step up.”

Not bad for a candidate who’s shown no sign of escaping the back of the huge GOP pack — who, at this point, polls too poorly to qualify for the upcoming televised Republican debates. (It’s worth noting that the Union Leader publisher, Joe McQuaid, is a leading critic of the networks’ decision to feature the top 10 candidates in national polls — a choice that not only risks leaving Jindal out but also undermines the influence of early voting states like New Hampshire).

The good press topped off an equally good week on the campaign trail in New Hampshire and Iowa, where he drew sizable and eager audiences. I attended one town hall meeting in Rochester, New Hampshire, and can attest to the fact that Jindal made a good impression.

If only running for president were that easy.

Unfortunately for Jindal, candidates have to be able to do more than walk into a room and talk a good game. That much was clear during another interview with a supposedly friendly outlet over the weekend. Rather than swallowing Jindal’s proposed solutions to the nation’s ills, “Fox News Sunday” host Bret Baier pushed back by zeroing in on the governor’s record in Louisiana.

“Governor, you have economic problems at home. Your approval rating in Louisiana has hovered around 30 percent, stemming largely from how you’ve handled a deficit of about $1.6 billion, a budget shortfall and you’re waiting to hear whether Louisiana will lose some of its credit rating. … Why should anyone look at your economic record and say, ‘That’s what I want for the nation?’ ” Baier asked. Ouch.

Jindal did his best to talk his way out of the trap.

He cited his usual, carefully picked litany of statistics aimed at showing that he’d cut government and grown the private sector. He boasted of signing the largest tax cut in state history, skipping the part about how he’d only agreed to roll back the Stelly increases in 2008 after being cornered by the Legislature. He blamed criticism on “the left,” which, he argued, simply opposes shrinking government. “Prosperity is measured in the real world, not the government world,” he said.

All well and good, Baier responded, “but governor, the way you’ve done that. You passed a plan that many looked at as a way to keep a presidential campaign promise by not raising taxes, in consultation with Grover Norquist, with Americans for Tax Reform.” Baier proceeded to describe Jindal’s widely derided SAVE plan to impose a fee on higher education that would not count as a tax, adopt an equivalent credit that he could call a tax cut, then raise other taxes — all while claiming he hadn’t. Not only that, but the host pre-emptively countered any attempt Jindal might make to dismiss criticism as partisan posturing.

“Isn’t that, governor, the kind of stuff that Republicans hate about Washington?” Baier asked.

The inquest clearly knocked Jindal off his normally smooth game. He invoked “the left” once more, claiming, “I know the left always wants to raise taxes; that’s not the way to answer our problems.” He even went so far as to call the phantom higher ed tax credit, created only to cancel out the on-paper fee, an actual “tax cut for families whose kids are going to universities.” Not even Jindal’s few remaining legislative allies during the recent session had the nerve to claim that.

Jindal also tried to wiggle his way out of the uncomfortable situation by invoking one of his go-to talking points.

“We need a doer, not a talker,” the governor said.

What an ironic thing to say. The response in New Hampshire proves that candidate Jindal is quite capable of talking. It’s the “doing” part — specifically, what he’s done in Baton Rouge — that trips him up.

And that’s saying something.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.