Gov. Bobby Jindal’s putting together all the pieces of a presidential campaign. He’s got a national consulting team, a think tank and a policy record that’s been carefully curated to appeal to Republican primary voters. He’s a regular on the political talk show circuit, and he’s about to check off another box when he heads to Europe this weekend to tout Louisiana as a place to do business and — oh yeah — deliver a foreign policy speech and meet with British political leaders.
One thing’s still missing, though. Jindal hasn’t settled on a memorable slogan.
So here’s a suggestion: How about “Iowa or Bust?”
Mixed in with all that maneuvering to raise his profile and compile credentials, of course, have been trips to the early primary and caucus states. And no state’s gotten more love than Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation caucuses just over a year from now.
Jindal went to Iowa earlier this week. He went four times in 2014, according to an official count from The Des Moines Register, which is relentless in chronicling the comings and goings of presidential aspirants.
And by then, he was already a familiar face. Jindal started the last presidential cycle campaigning in Iowa for Rick Perry — and according to press reports from the time, sounding pretty darn lucid in comparison. He ended it back in the state as a surrogate for Mitt Romney.
Jindal’s attempt to plant his flag upriver from Baton Rouge is no random decision. While first primary state New Hampshire has more libertarian leanings, the Republicans who dominate the Iowa caucuses generally have a religiously conservative bent.
Consider the caucuses’ recent history. In 2012, 57 percent of Iowa GOP caucus voters told exit pollsters that they were “born-again or evangelical Christian,” and Rick Santorum, who played to that wing of the party, finished first. In 2008, 60 percent identified themselves that way, more than enough to give Mike Huckabee, who pushes the same buttons and who is considering another run in 2016, the win.
If there was any doubt that Jindal hopes to follow in their footsteps, his agenda during this week’s visit should dispel it. As reported by the Register — which noted that Jindal had offered the paper exclusive access, something the Louisiana press doesn’t get much of these days — Jindal met with over 100 religious leaders at an invitation-only event and as part of what the paper described as a shift to a “Jesus-focused” brand of politics.
“The reality is I’m here today because I genuinely, sincerely, passionately believe that America’s in desperate need of a spiritual revival,” Jindal said. “I love to quote Winston Churchill … ‘You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they’ve exhausted every alternative.’ ”
“That’s where we are as a country,” he continued. “We have tried everything, and now it is time to turn back to God.”
If the rhetoric sounds familiar, that may be because Jindal’s been striking a similar tone in his pitch for “The Response,” a controversial upcoming prayer rally at LSU sponsored by the Mississippi-based American Family Association, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its stridently anti-gay views.
Jindal’s overt religiosity didn’t seem to cause any controversy during his trip this week. In fact, pastors and other movement leaders suggested that he’d passed some sort of litmus test.
“He has to be able to speak the dialect,” said Jan Mickelson, a talk show host and conservative commentator. “This is a crowd that can hear whether he speaks the right language, with the right connotation, with the right context.”
Mickelson’s verdict afterward: “He’s not bilingual. That’s his native tongue. He will give Huckabee a run in Iowa.”
Of course, even if Jindal does break through and perform well in Iowa, there’s a downside. The very qualities that might attract religious conservatives could well repel more business-oriented Republicans or those who simply want a candidate who can appeal to swing voters in a general election. Jindal may think his association with the American Family Association will help him win a certain type of vote, but it’s sure to be off-putting to many others. Consider how much criticism he’s already earned for the relationship here in Louisiana, which is hardly a blue state.
So if cozying up to this considerable slice of the Iowa electorate seems a smart strategy in the short term, it’s hard to see how Jindal might translate a strong showing into a credible candidacy.
Just ask President Santorum or President Huckabee.