There’s an old joke about presidential primary politics involving Mo Udall, a Democratic member of Congress from Arizona back in the 1970’s, who tried and failed to make it as a candidate for president. It goes like this:
Shortly after I announced my candidacy in New Hampshire, I walked into a local barbershop and began introducing myself:
“Hi, I’m Mo Udall and I’m running for President.”
“Yeah, we know,” says one of the hangers-on. “We were laughing about that yesterday.”
Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, might not be laughing if he heard that joke. With Chris Christie in deep and growing trouble over the set of scandals that surround him, there’s increasing talk that one of the other governors waiting in the wings might step in to take over the front-runner’s position—and Jindal, a very, very conservative Republican whose platform is centered on slicing and dicing “entitlements,” including Medicare and Social Security, wants to be that governor. For the past two years, he’s been assembling the rudiments of a presidential campaign team. There’s only one problem: in poll after poll of Republican voters, Jindal comes in dead last—or the pollsters don’t even bother including his name among the choices.
But don’t tell Jindal. He’s building a campaign machine, and he’s out to grab headlines. Last month, during a meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, Jindal easily eclipsed Christie, who stayed in the background, and it was Jindal who appeared as the Republican spokesman on Face the Nation on February 23 and who went to the White House for a dinner with President Obama. Christie skipped that dinner, and coming out of the White House Jindal took the microphone to denounce Obama is no uncertain terms, breaking the polite protocol that usually marks such events.
And on March 14, the New Hampshire Republican party is hosting “An Evening with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.”
His campaign is already taking shape. Last year, Jindal founded what looks like a pre-presidential organizing committee called America Next. In its mission statement, Jindal says:
There is a great sense in this country that the leftwing Obama experiment has been a failure…. A rebellion is brewing outside the Washington Beltway.
According to The Weekly Standard, Jindal is putting together seasoned political operatives for America Next:
Jindal will serve as America Next’s honorary chairman, while the day-to-day operations will be run by Jill Neunaber, a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign… Curt Anderson, a spokesman for America Next, says the group will have “experts all over the country, including Governor Jindal, working on policy plans.”
Curt Anderson helps run On Message Inc., a high-powered (and Louisiana-connected) political strategy and media firm. Anderson has worked for Steve Forbes and for the Bush/Cheney election team, and he helped elect Jindal governor. According to his On Message bio, “In 2010 Curt co-authored Governor Jindal’s new book, Leadership and Crisis.” Other professionals at On Message include Wes Anderson, Jindal’s pollster, and Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s top political strategist. His On Message bio says:
[Teepell] served as Chief Strategist on Governor Jindal’s re-election campaign and won it by a historic margin. Teepell directed Governor Jindal’s transition successfully and later advised multiple new Governors on their transitions. In his job as Jindal’s Chief of Staff, Teepell helped implement historic reforms that have turned his home state of Louisiana around. In recent years, Teepell served as a campaign consultant to the Republican Governors Association assisting in winning multiple races around the country.
The governor’s longtime political adviser Curt Anderson, of OnMessage Inc., confirmed Monday that Chris Jacobs is joining the nonprofit’s staff as a policy director…. Jacobs worked for Jim DeMint, a U.S. senator from South Carolina who now runs The Heritage Foundation.
And National Review says that Jindal has tapped Spencer Zwick, a top fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, “for an assist with introductions to some of the Romney campaign’s top givers.”
Is Jindal running? It sure sounds like it. To Politico, he gave the usual demurral:
Of course, there’s no satisfying the press’s appetite for all this 2016 speculation, and that’s fine—none of it matters in real life. The whole thing is ridiculous and we are getting way ahead of ourselves.
Of course, by any standard measure, Jindal is indeed way ahead of himself. Still, the New Orleans Times-Picayune put his chances this way:
Jindal’s move may have been savvy. Among the probable Republican presidential candidates, Jindal is often ignored or dismissed. In the wake of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s downfall, a stunt at the White House, well timed and expertly executed, could expose him to conservative primary voters who might find much to admire in a politician with the courage to confront Obama.
Based on his record in Louisiana, his past as a politician and Washington policy geek, and his hiring of folks from outfits such as the Heritage Foundation, is seems clear that Jindal will present himself as an authentic far-right governor who’s committed to dismantling the social safety net. He has experience in Washington trying to do exactly that. Back in the late 1990s, in a little-known part of his career but one that gets a mention on his official Republican Governors Association bio, Jindal was the executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. As such, Jindal was part of the group that laid the plans, only partially successful, to privatize and voucherize Medicare.
In Louisiana, he tried and failed to enact a sweeping tax reform plan that would have eliminated the state’s income tax and replaced it with a far more regressive sales tax. The idea was intensely unpopular in Louisiana, and the governor’s popularity went into a steep dive as a result. As The New York Times, reporting on Jindal’s defeat on the issue, said:
Then he announced he was shelving it. “Governor, you’re moving too fast, and we aren’t sure that your plan is the best way to do it,” Mr. Jindal said, describing what he had heard from legislators and citizens alike. “Here is my response,” he said. “O.K., I hear you.”
The plan, to get rid of the state income and corporate taxes and replace the lost revenue with higher and broader sales taxes, was not dropped altogether. Mr. Jindal emphasized that he was still committed to losing the income tax, but that he would defer to the Legislature to suggest how exactly to make that work.
But Jindal isn’t giving up on the idea. Said Teepell, “You go through temporary rough patches. But that’s not going to slow him down.”
Like Christie, Jindal supports charter schools and vouchers and getting rid of teacher tenure. Unlike Christie, Jindal refused to accept the expansion of Medicaid under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Down in Lousiana, everyone knows he’s running. Said Bob Mann, a former aide to the state’s Democrats and a professor at Louisiana State University:
You don’t get any argument from anybody down here that Jindal’s running for president—it’s just an accepted fact, like the sun rising in the East. There’s an overriding sense among insiders here…that most of the higher-profile initiatives that he’s embarking on here are all with the national audience in mind. He’s totally devoted to building relationships outside of Louisiana. Louisiana is no longer in his focus—he’s looking way beyond us.”
As for whether or not Jindal’s tax initiative was really meant to pass or whether it was designed to win favor among national Republicans, Mann says: “I question whether he really wants to do something or if he just wants the headline that he tried to do it, worked really hard and these nasty tax-raising Democrats foiled him.”