Washington — Earlier in the campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, there was talk that if Donald Trump didn’t win, he might run as a third-party candidate.
But maybe Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would give that a try.
He certainly does not seem to be very fond of the Republican Party, nor of his fellow Republicans. He has said that maybe the party shouldn’t be around at all, if — despite holding majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate — it can’t manage to cut off federal support for Planned Parenthood, in reaction to the undercover videos of discussions of the pricing of aborted fetal tissue for the medical-research market. And Jindal and his team show little affection for the Republican National Committee, accusing the party organization of scheming to arrange a showdown between Trump and establishment favorite Jeb Bush for the nomination, and of chicanery in setting the terms for the next nationally televised debate, on C-SPAN Oct. 28 (under which Jindal, once again, seems destined for the not-ready-for-prime-time “kids’ table”).
Republican members of Congress are not spared his wrath — not any of them. At a convention of religious-right activists in Washington last month, Jindal said all members of Congress should be tossed out of office.
That would include four of his rivals for the nomination, all of them in the U.S. Senate. But it also would include House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, who ranks No. 3 in the Republican leadership hierarchy and is a strong contender to move up to No. 2, majority leader, this coming week — someone whom it might seem even a lame-duck governor might want to stay on good terms with, in the interests of his state. Maybe Scalise is too establishment for Jindal — yet his broom also would sweep out Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, a founder of the dyed-in-the-red-wool House Freedom Caucus, a group whose opposition to the Republican leadership over Planned Parenthood and other issues helped drive Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, from office (sparking the chain reaction that has provided Scalise his chance to climb the ladder).
Jindal has been mining the anti-establishment vein for months, even before the rise of Trump and others among the Republicans — and of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a card-carrying Socialist from Vermont, among the Democrats — made it emphatically clear that in politics, this is the year of antiestablishmentarianism (but not, sadly for word geeks, of antidisestablishmentarianism).
In February, in a speech to conservative activists outside Washington, Jindal called on Republicans in Congress to “grow a spine” and said, “The Republicans in Washington are about to wave the white flag of surrender” on replacing the Affordable Care Act and blocking Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration.
Jindal has cranked it up a notch lately, but the tactic doesn’t seem to be working for him. The reason he’s been failing to make the main stage for any of the first three TV debates is that his standing is too low in national polls. He has shown some faint signs of life in Iowa, which hosts the Feb. 1 caucuses that kick off the nomination process, but that’s the least he could expect: His supporters spent more on television there through August than those backing any other candidate, and he has devoted more time to campaigning there than all but former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania.
One problem for Jindal is that his résumé does not exactly scream “outsider.”
Trump, who has led the polls for months, is a real-estate developer and reality-TV celebrity who has never run for public office. Likewise with Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon lately challenging Trump for the top spot. And the other surging candidate, Carly Fiorina, is a former Hewlett-Packard CEO whose only political experience is a losing run for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010.
He has spent almost his entire working life in public office, first as a state and federal bureaucrat and, since 2005, as an elected official: the past seven-plus years as governor (he is term-limited from running again) and before that, three years in the U.S. House.
Jindal is just 44, with potentially a long future in public life ahead of him. But if he’s hoping for a Cabinet appointment or even a vice-presidential nomination if his bid for the top spot falls short, he’s not exactly laying the groundwork within the Republican Party.
For Jindal, it looks like White House or bust.
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/