Dear Quin Hillyer: Please Stop Touting A Last-Minute Bobby Jindal 2012 Run

One of our favorite national political commentators, Quin Hillyer, is actually a New Orleans guy by birth and rearing. It should be little surprise, then, when Quin occasionally throws some local flavor into the mix.

Lately he’s on this kick in which he throws the idea of Bobby Jindal jumping into the race at the last minute out there as a possibility and an expression of dissatisfaction with the available candidates in the 2012 GOP field.

The most recent manifestation of this came out today

Talk is heating up about the need for a new entrant in the Republican presidential sweepstakes, with not only The Weekly Standard keeping up its long-running and always-thoughtful drumbeat now called the Valentine’s Day Option, but George Will saying as much on Sunday, after Rhodes Cook of the Sabato Crystal Ball explained why it is still definitely feasible.

A name I am increasingly hearing is that of Bobby Jindal, subject of glowing reviews in the past three or so months by Fred BarnesJim Geraghty, Michael Barone, Chris Cillizza,  and Yours Truly.

Hillyer then lays out the case for Jindal as the Republican savior…

Here’s the key thing: There is not an elected official in the country who knows health care policy as well as Jindal, and once the Supreme Court decides the Obamacare case, health care will be front and center in the campaign. Why does Jindal know so much about it? First, he was the wunderkind Secretary of the Louisiana health department, where he flat-out saved the state budget from disaster while completely and successfully renovating its Medicaid program (after explaining Medicaid’s rules to the federal Medicaid officials who didn’t even understand them as well as Jindal did). Second, he was executive director of the Breaux-Thomas entitlement commission in the late 1990s that not only pushed the idea of premium support (the heart of Paul Ryan’s Medicare plans), but got several Democratic senators to buy in to the concept.  Third, he worked on health care in the private sector, for McKinsey and Company.  Also, (from Wikipedia), “as a Rhodes Scholar. He received an M.Litt. degree in political science with an emphasis in health policy from the University of Oxford in 1994 for his thesis “A needs-based approach to health care”.

He also served as the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fine. And I hate to disagree with Quin, but as somebody who’s here in Louisiana, allow me to make the case for why Jindal as a last-minute candidate will be a disaster.

First, Jindal has never won a hotly-contested election. Sure, he just got re-elected with 66 percent of the vote. On the surface, that looks like a big deal. But it isn’t; the most prominent challenger to him was Tara Hollis, a thirty-something schoolteacher from the tiny town of Haynesville in the northwestern part of the state who had zero funding and even less ability to push a message. Hollis, a Democrat, wasn’t even endorsed by what’s left of the state party.

And in 2007, when Jindal was elected the first time, the Democrats had little better to offer. Their most prominent candidate, Walter Boasso, was a marble-mouthed self-funding opportunist who had been a Republican until just before qualifying, and they also offered “Bananas” Foster Campbell, the last of the state’s Longite socialists whose electoral appeal statewide is nil. Campbell is currently an embarrassment on the state Public Service Commission; he’s never had any success running for office higher than that.

Jindal had a similarly easy run in Congress before getting elected Governor. Running in the hardcore-conservative 1st District, where Democrats are looked upon as the enemy, he pulled 78 percent of the vote in 2004 and 88 percent in 2006 against competitors even less notable than Hollis.

The last time he had an election against an opponent of note was 2003. That was the year he ran against Kathleen Blanco – one of the least appealing candidates for gubernatorial office in the state’s history. And Jindal lost that race despite leading consistently in the polls until shortly before election day.

Does the governor get credit for building the state Republican Party so that no opposition exists? Perhaps. But he’s clearly not alone in that – most observers of Louisiana politics will tell you that Sen. David Vitter has been a lot more aggressive in that regard. Vitter has been a lot bolder in supporting conservative candidates even when their chances to win were small. Jindal made a ton of endorsements this fall and had a fantastic winning percentage on them – but he stayed away from some of the more contentious and/or risky races.

Both Jindal and Vitter have claimed credit for the flood of former Democrat politicians into the Republican ranks over the past year, but there is concern that Jindal hasn’t shown quite the leadership toward these new arrivals the state party – and the conservative movement – is going to need. For example, Jindal’s accession to the anointment of John Alario as the incoming senate president is an alarming event; a politician worthy of a presidential run would never tarnish his reputation by making common cause with a recent turncoat and former Edwin Edwards henchman of dubious ethical background like Alario. The response of the Jindal camp is that Alario was going to win the election as senate president anyway, and rather than have him be in a position to kill the governor’s agenda it was better to co-opt him.

If you’re going to stay as governor of Louisiana, such a call might be justified when it currently is not in any political sense within the Republican Party. Particularly if over a four-year term having Alario as your enforcer on the Senate floor allows you to reconstruct the state’s educational system, or wipe out the state income tax, or greatly diminish the state bureaucracy, or shut down non-performing institutions like Southern University at New Orleans with its five percent six-year graduation rate.

Or if you can do something about the looming disaster in the state’s Medicaid and indigent health care delivery systems. Which, despite Quin’s touting of Jindal’s expertise in health care, has not been successfully established. Louisiana’s health care system teeters on the brink of a disaster for lots of reasons, but a main one is that we invest far too many resources on propping up brick-and-mortar health care facilities serving only the public-sector patients. Jindal has nibbled away at that problem, but time is running out and the Charity Hospital system results in the waste of a half-billion dollars a year or more when it’s clear that a more portable system of health care would be more cost-efficient. Politically that’s a challenge, though, so Jindal hasn’t joined that battle in earnest as the bulk of the state’s conservatives pine for someone to do.

There is no question Jindal understands health care delivery and he can talk a good game on Obamacare. And he’s unveiled a plan to privatize the state’s Medicaid program which has some potential. But if you can’t kill the Charity Hospital system in four years as governor of Louisiana, can it be taken on faith that you can kill Obamacare as president? That’s questionable.

This isn’t intended as an attack on Jindal. I criticize him occasionally, but I can make a strong case that he’s the best governor Louisiana has had in modern times (which, for the unwashed, is hardly the compliment it seems given that the other challengers for that honor include cranks, rogues, laggards and halfwits like Huey and Earl Long, Edwin Edwards, Jimmie Davis, O.K. Allen and Mike Foster). The problem is that if the nation isn’t interested in Rick Perry, who has been far more successful in Texas than Jindal has been in Louisiana and whom Jindal has endorsed, then an Ivy League degree and a machine-gun stump delivery won’t get him anywhere against Romney and Gingrich, and ultimately Obama as this new savior of a candidate.

It’s entirely possible that the current field will peter out and splinter the Republican vote so that a brokered convention is necessary. I wouldn’t call that likely, but it’s possible. But Jindal isn’t well-known enough, experienced enough or has a strong enough record to survive as the product of such a convention. He’s not ready for this kind of prime time, and Hillyer and others do him no justice by putting him forth. After all, the last time Bobby was blasted out to the public before he was ready was so that he could give the answer to Obama’s first congressional address. Remember how well that went?

Jindal is only 40 years old. He won’t be past his political prime until some time after 2032, perhaps 2036. This notion that he has to be rushed onto the national stage is foolish, and for the sake of all it needs to end.

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