Gov. Bobby Jindal played familiar rhetorical notes in his appearance Monday in a nationally televised forum featuring most of the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential candidates, who produced few if any surprises or shocks.
“I’m so tired of this president and the left trying to divide us,” said Jindal, 44. “We’re all Americans. We’re not hyphenated Americans.”
Jindal, the Baton Rouge-born child of immigrants from India, has consistently shunned a tag as an Indian-American and has praised assimilation in the proverbial melting pot.
“This president is trying to turn the American dream into the European nightmare,” he said, repeating another of his favorite phrases.
The forum, at St. Anselm College in Manchester, was sponsored by the Union Leader, a New Hampshire newspaper long known for its heavy tilt to the right. Although organizers said topics would be drawn from online selections by people in the three states that go first in the nomination process — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — with supplemental suggestions from the live audience, the questions asked of the candidates were pretty much in the conservative wheelhouse: what to do about illegal immigration, foreign threats and the stagnant economy, rather than about income inequality and firearms violence.
The introduction to the event included a reminder that it was not a debate, which turned out to be a statement of the obvious: The candidates made their way one by one to the center of the stage to sit on a stool and take questions from moderator Jack Heath, of WGIR-AM radio in Manchester. There was no give-and-take, no sparring among rivals and no cutaway camera shots to a candidate frowning or checking a wristwatch.
The two-hour event was broadcast on CSPAN. Each candidate was allotted two five-minute turns in the spotlight, with a chance to conclude with a 30-second pitch directly to the viewing audience.
“This is the most important election of our lifetimes,” Jindal said in his wrap-up. “This is about the future of America, getting off the path to socialism.”
Jindal earlier had touted his record in cutting the state budget in Louisiana, slashing the government workforce and creating private sector jobs.
“We need a doer, not a talker,” he said in his valedictory. “We can’t afford four more years of on-the-job training.”
And, he assured the audience, he has the “bandwidth” and “backbone” to get the job done.
“We’ve had seven years of a great talker,” he said. “Let’s elect a doer.
“Let us believe in America again.”
The Union Leader was supported in its sponsorship by newspapers in Iowa and South Carolina. The three early-voting states are jealous of their outsized role in the nomination process, and the publishers of the newspapers have been outspoken about not surrendering their role in winnowing the field to the Fox News debates on Thursday, the first nationally televised debates of the campaign.
Fox News will limit participation in its two-hour debate at 8 p.m. to the candidates ranking in the top 10 in an average of recent national polls. That will relegate seven candidates to the one-hour, junior-varsity debate at 4 p.m., with consequences to their image and standing that are difficult to predict but could be substantial.
Jindal is nearly certain to miss the cut for the prime-time event, based on recent national polls (although Fox has not said what polls it will apply to the selection; the network will close the books at 4 p.m. Tuesday). His campaign has minimized the importance of the debates, instead stressing the importance of the early states.
The event attracted 14 of the 17 Republican candidates of standing, meaning they are current or former governors or U.S. senators or otherwise enjoy national reputations. The front-runner in the polls, real-estate developer and reality-TV celebrity Donald Trump, took a pass, reportedly because he was miffed at a critical column in the Union Leader. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also missed the event. The announcement last week by former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore that he would join the field came too late for his inclusion in the event.
Three U.S. senators — Ted Cruz, of Texas, Rand Paul, of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio, of Florida — participated by remote TV because they stayed in Washington for floor votes. A fourth senator — Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina — took part in person.
The order in which candidates took questions was determined by lot. Jindal went ninth.
The organizers were forestalled from staging a traditional debate because the event was not sanctioned as one by the Republican National Committee. In what is seen as an effort to avoid an untidy repeat of the 20-event debate-o-rama of 2012, the RNC has authorized nine debates from now until March. A candidate participating in an unapproved debate will be barred from joining any later authorized ones.