Is Gov. Bobby Jindal serious?
That, in a nutshell, is the question I get all the time. Is he really going to run for president? And does he actually think he can win?
As hard as it is to fathom from here in his home state, I’m sticking with my original answers: Yes, yes and yes.
While Jindal is delaying a formal decision until after the legislative session ends next month, he’s given no hint of pulling back on his national ambitions.
Sure, the governor’s been showing his face more often in Baton Rouge lately, but he hasn’t curtailed his travel schedule. Last weekend, he gave a speech in South Carolina, one of the first states on next year’s primary calendar. This weekend, he returned yet again to Iowa, site of the season’s first caucuses. In between, he stopped off in Washington, D.C. His political organization now has boots on the ground in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and he continues to churn out opinion pieces for non-Louisiana publications.
All signs suggest it’s full-steam ahead. Never mind a distinct lack of traction around the country — not to mention a relentless run of unflattering news from back home.
Last week, Senate President John Alario, one of Jindal’s few remaining legislative allies and certainly his most important one, confessed to The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges that any long-term solutions to the state’s endemic budget woes will have to come on the next governor’s watch. The best lawmakers can do this year is find a short-term fix that meets Jindal’s requirement that it pass muster with a key national tax purity group, Americans for Tax Reform. Jindal may or may not come out of the session with a budget he’ll sign, but his reputation as a skilled manager — not to mention a leader — has already suffered irreparable harm.
Odds are looking long that he’ll get to sign the “religious freedom” bill that he’s been trumpeting around the country, which is scheduled for a hearing this week. Despite Louisiana’s conservative leanings, hardly anyone else in the arena seems to have much appetite for a vaguely worded measure that paints the state as intolerant of same-sex couples. A new Southern Media & Opinion Research poll showing that a bare majority oppose the idea will surely bolster lawmakers’ resolve to put this thing out of its misery and get it out of the papers.
Nor will Jindal get to declare victory over Common Core, another issue he loves to talk about out on the trail. Last week, his allies in the opposition got together with staunch proponents of the education standards and came up with a compromise that seems to have satisfied all the political players except, well, Jindal.
And of course, all the candidates running to replace him — the Republicans as well as the Democrat — are making a point of telling voters they’d do things differently.
Last week came the worst indignity of all, courtesy of the 600 likely voters interviewed by SMOR. Just 31.8 of the 600 likely voters polled like the job Jindal’s doing; for comparison, President Barack Obama got a thumbs-up from 42.1 percent of respondents. That’s not due to any shift in overall ideological sentiment in the state, the poll’s release notes, but because Louisiana Republicans are turning on him.
It’s hard to imagine how the governor plans to present himself as the solution to the country’s woes when the people who know him best see him as little more than a problem. Yet all evidence points to Jindal and his circle still believing there’s a credible path to the GOP nomination, at least on paper.
Some of that probably stems from general patterns in crowded primaries like the one developing for next year. Candidates always peak, then fade, at different stages. And here at least, nobody can claim that Jindal’s peaking too early.
He and his advisers are surely drawing on his own electoral history as well. In past campaigns, Jindal’s always managed to run as a rock-ribbed conservative but also as a pragmatist. He can give a terrible speech, but he can deliver a crowd-pleaser, and he knows how to connect with voters in small groups. He may not have his own billionaire backer, but he’s always been a prolific fundraiser. Other than that one loss to Kathleen Blanco — an effective win, when you consider where he’d come from and how well it positioned him for the future — he’s never before come up short.
And there’s one more reason I’d argue that Jindal and his team are in it to win it: They’ve been building up to this point for years, at least as far back as his first term and quite possibly much earlier.
Face it. He probably doesn’t have a Plan B.