For months now, Gov. Bobby Jindal has been going about the business of planning a presidential campaign, even as he insisted he was still praying over whether he’d actually run. And for just as many months, I’ve been hearing the same question: What on Earth is he thinking?
Well, now that Jindal has finally announced his intentions, the governor’s thought process, and his plan to overcome low poll rankings nationally and dismal approval ratings at home, is coming into focus. So as Jindal heads back out on the campaign trail — officially, this time — here’s a bit of what to expect.
Good thing his kids like Iowa — or at least claimed to in that weird hidden camera campaign video of the governor and his wife Supriya telling them he’d decided — because it’s key to his strategy. The nation’s first caucus state is a proven launch pad for religious conservatives, and to hear his aides tell it, it plays to some of Jindal’s other strengths, including his talent at face-to-face campaigning (This part is true. I covered his early races, and saw firsthand that he’s very good in one-on-one situations).
In a briefing for reporters who covered the announcement, chief campaign strategist Curt Anderson and campaign manager Timmy Teepell predicted that a win there would require only about 26,000 votes, or 20 percent of the total. Anderson noted that the relatively underfunded Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum won the last two Iowa caucuses, which shows that competing there doesn’t require the big bucks that better-known candidates are already raising. But unlike them, he said, Jindal has appeal beyond evangelicals.
Which brings us to another message we’re likely to hear: that Jindal’s well-rounded. Sure, the field’s crowded, Anderson said, but with the possible exception of libertarian Rand Paul, nobody has a lane to his or herself. And Jindal, he argued, can fill many of them, including executive experience, policy chops and tea party appeal.
Jindal’s also planning to claim he’s the only candidate with a written proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, although he lost the chance to highlight that issue when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law Thursday.
That’s supposed to bolster his argument that he “isn’t getting a crash course on policy, he’s writing the policy,” as Anderson put it. In an apparent attempt to defuse criticism of his uneven rhetorical skills, he’s also positioning himself as a “doer” rather than a “talker.”
One role Jindal won’t try to fill, they said, is that of establishment choice. Instead, he’ll try to position himself as a truth-teller, a candidate who’s not afraid to rock the boat and be politically incorrect. This much was clear in Jindal’s announcement, when he criticized Jeb Bush by name for his supposed willingness to abandon “conservative ideals.”
At the same time, his aides are pushing the line that Jindal’s the “youngest candidate with the longest résumé.” That résumé, of course, is replete with top state and federal posts, dating back to 1996, which doesn’t exactly make him an outsider.
That’s not the only claim that may leave Jindal’s own constituents shaking their heads. In seeking to explain why he’s stuck at one or two percent in national polls, Anderson argued that Jindal hasn’t been out there trying. “He has had a day job,” the consultant said. Of course, Jindal’s spent about half his time recently traveling, and as anyone who followed the recent legislative session knows, his state agenda has been entirely tailored to boost his national credentials.
Anderson also sought to explain away Jindal’s low poll numbers at home by noting that voters are in a generally anti-politician mood, and arguing that the deep dip — which he attributed to Democratic polls, even though local independent pollster Bernie Pinsonat recently pegged his approval rating at 32 percent — was due in part to a budget showdown that’s “over now.” In fact, the budget he just signed contains $500 million in one-time fixes that will need to be replaced next year, by the next governor and Legislature.
And Jindal will continue to press the extraordinary claim that he balanced the budget without raising taxes, when even lawmakers who backed the gimmicky SAVE fund tax credit scheme, not to mention the businesses that are about to open their checkbooks, disagree. He will continue to talk about reducing state spending 26 percent and state employment by 30,000 — “Republican voters want those things,” Anderson said — and continue to brush past how much disaster recovery accounts for the drop in spending and how many of those jobs simply shifted to privatized hospitals.
That’s the way it goes in presidential campaigns.
You come up with your talking points and hope they stick. Jindal remains one of the longest of shots, but the farther away he gets from Baton Rouge, the better the chance that they will.