1) Wednesday's early CNBC GOP presidential debate, featuring Gov. Bobby Jindal and three others who'd failed to qualify for the main stage, focused on economics, and Jindal took the occasion to promise he'd do for America what he'd done for Louisiana. Questioner John Harwood, who'd obviously done his homework, hit back hard with queries about the state's precarious finances, and even quoted Republican adversaries such as U.S. Sen. and gubernatorial candidate David Vitter and Treasurer John Kennedy bashing his record. Jindal insisted that the budget is balanced (never mind the looming mid-year cuts), and said he meant to starve government.
Jindal also defended his tax plan, which calls for the poorest Americans to pay 2 percent in income taxes so that they'd have some "skin in the game." Asked about the payroll and Medicare taxes everyone pays, Jindal said that money doesn't count because it's for specific programs. He also said he supports the idea of paid maternity leave but wouldn't have government "mandate it." He insisted that better pay and benefits are a natural outgrowth of a stronger economy.
2) Jindal's as diligent as any candidate out there about sticking to his talking points. He made repeated references to socialism and pitched himself as the only candidate to have shrunk government (former New York Gov. George Pataki took issue with that). One of his closing lines, "we can save the idea of America before it's too late," is a variation on the old standby of his go-to "the idea of America is slipping away."
3) Jindal has consistently complained that he should make the main stage based on his marginally better polling in Iowa, not be relegated to the bottom tier due to his truly dreadful showing in national polls. His pleas fell on deaf ears at CNBC, but he still used the occasion to signal to Iowa's large bloc of religious conservatives that he's their guy. Jindal used a question about whether the day after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday to extol the virtues of Drew and Brittany Brees, whom he described as "great role models" and "great Christians." And in his closing he returned to the theme by arguing that "as Christians we believe the tomb is empty." Not sure how non-Christian voters are supposed to take that.
4) These "undercard" debates, featuring a handful of low-polling candidates and preceding the main events, are getting old. CNBC was the latest network to make up for excluding Jindal & Co. from the big stage by offering them airtime, but once again, all the network did was reinforce the idea that these are the candidates who aren't serious. We're talking about a governor, a former governor, a senator and a former senator. Sure, having ten candidates on stage is already unwieldy, but would adding four more be that much worse?