The upside for governors who run for president is that they get to run on their records as chief executives.
The downside, of course, is that they have to run on their records.
That’s turning out to be an obstacle for a number of GOP governors taking a good, hard look at running in 2016, including people like New Jersey’s Chris Christie, whose poll numbers among his own constituents are even worse than Gov. Bobby Jindal’s.
But if Christie’s got a problem, Jindal’s got a bigger one.
Thanks to Louisiana’s unusual election calendar, the year leading up to the 2016 primaries will be dominated back home by the race to replace him. That means it will feature a whole lot of talk about what he did wrong and how his potential successors propose to dig the state out of the hole that Jindal will leave.
And while Christie can always dismiss home state griping as the work of Democrats who dominate New Jersey politics, here in Louisiana, the criticism is just as likely to come from fellow Republicans who are perfectly willing to call the governor out.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s been doing so implicitly ever since he revealed his intentions last year. His announcement came with a promise that the governorship would be his last political job, a clear dig at Jindal’s attempt to use the office as a stepping stone. Vitter also started positioning himself as a more responsible steward of the state’s depleted budget, even hinting that he’d accept a largely federally funded Medicaid expansion, no matter that it’s part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
And Vitter kicked off election year by making it explicit.
Upon taking the oath of office, he announced last week, Vitter would call the Legislature into special session to take on “fundamental spending and tax reform to stabilize the state budget and promote greater job growth,” he wrote. Included would be a long-anticipated look at whether Louisiana’s billions in tax credits, exemptions and deductions pass the cost-benefit test, a process that has never gotten off the ground due, in part, to Jindal’s reluctance to put anything that could be construed as a tax increase on his résumé.
“Governor Jindal should be doing this now,” Vitter said in a press release. “I’ll do it the minute I’m sworn in.”
Right there with Vitter is another GOP hopeful, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Appearing alongside Vitter and two other candidates at a Friday forum on infrastructure, Dardenne cast himself as offering “sensible, reasoned leadership,” which certainly sounded like an intended contrast. Dardenne also labeled Jindal’s hard line on reforming costly tax exemptions as misguided.
Like Vitter, Dardenne too has opened the door to accepting the Medicaid expansion.
They join Democrat John Bel Edwards, a state lawmaker and more predictable Jindal critic, as well as Public Service Commissioner and former top Jindal aide Scott Angelle, who didn’t directly address Jindal’s record but who did promise the forum audience that he’d work for the “front of the uniform” — where the team’s name is, not the back, where the player’s name is.
All this came during a week when lawmakers were fretting over potentially draconian funding cuts to the state’s colleges and universities, perhaps $200 million to $300 million, on top of the $700 million in reductions that the schools have already suffered since 2008.
And as if prove to his potential successors’ points, it also came as Jindal was busy publicizing what he’s billing as a major foreign policy speech. While everyone else was talking budget, Jindal was sending out press releases with headlines like these: “ICYMI: Gov. Jindal to Bash Hillary’s ‘Mindless Naiveté’ in London Speech,” and “Preview: In London Speech, Governor Jindal to Expose Truth About Radical Islam.” Those releases came from his official, taxpayer-funded press office, although neither has a thing to do with Louisiana’s needs.
Of course, primary voters and national reporters who scrutinize Jindal’s record may not need his potential replacements to highlight his shortcomings. Jindal’s utter distraction from his day job, not to mention his long track record of pursuing state policies designed to position him for a national run rather than leave Louisiana on solid footing, are well-documented.
Still, if anyone’s looking for a little insight, this much is already clear: At least a couple of Jindal’s fellow top Republicans are ready and willing to help.