SADOW: Vitter And Jindal Maybe Should Agree To Swap Jobs

Given that I was asked about it on a radio program yesterday and an opinion writer pondered about it recently, it’s a good time to review the possibility that if Gov. Bobby Jindal has political aspirations beyond Louisiana, that these may include if needed an attempt to land in the U.S. Senate next year.

Since my previous post on the matter right after his reelection and another a few months ago, several things have happened. The 2014 contest is shaping up with the entrance of Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, the heaviest-weight opponent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu ever has drawn. A year down the road from then, it is looking more likely that Sen. David Vitter will pursue, and if so would become the favorite to succeed in, the chance to replace Jindal. As for the governor, he doesn’t seem to be making much progress if he wishes to capture the 2016 nomination for the presidency among Republicans.

As a result of the 2012 elections, the decision about the presidency was forced more onto Jindal. There would be no GOP incumbent running in 2016 so he either has to go all in now or not at all. But that means his next opportunity could be as far away as 2024, which would make for him sitting out nine years unless he finagled a cabinet slot in a GOP presidency if that chance presented itself – out of sight, out of mind is not a good recipe to win the White House. And with his uncertain prospects for a 2016 nomination, only the Senate provides a quick opportunity as he would have to wait until 2019 to run for governor again because of term limits and probably would face an incumbent for a difficult comeback.

In doing so, however, he writes off the presidency any time soon. Further, candidates who lose Senate contests essentially end their political careers, even against the weakest presidential fields. And losing it now is more likely with the entrance of Cassidy, inducing added difficulty even against a vulnerable incumbent like Landrieu.

Cassidy will be well-funded and perhaps is even better at exploiting Landrieu’s key weakness, her support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), by his consistent opposition to it in Congress and his being a medical doctor, while Jindal has had to criticize from the sidelines while becoming a lightning rod for controversy over health care spending in the state. Cassidy’s lesser name recognition also allows him to introduce himself to the state in a way that can attract the populist base of the political right in the state, many of whom are critical of Jindal. All in all, unless he withdrew, he would be a formidable opponent for Jindal, who would have to use considerable resources to dispatch him before really being able to concentrate on unseating Landrieu, if he even could make it to the general election runoff.

There’s also the consideration that if Jindal goes for 2014, he has to commit very soon. Such a campaign would interfere considerably with his gubernatorial duties, where in 2013 he achieved dramatically less than he did in the admittedly ambitious 2012 session. For long term planning, he may consider that state policy achievements for two years builds a better record for the White House than risking becoming one of 100 senators after one. He also would be chided by some for giving up early on his state duties and scorned by some as being too overly ambitious, which also could affect negatively his chances in a race against Landrieu.

All in all, as far as if it were only a choice between 2014 vs. 2016, on balance Jindal probably prefers the latter, or doing something that does not include a presidential run in 2016 but may enhance prospects later. And the inching of Vitter closer to running to succeed him may provide that chance.

If Vitter were to, then his Senate seat opens. Unlikely to pull a Chris Christie, he would appoint somebody to fill the spot until his term would have been up the year after. If Jindal defers in 2014 but Landrieu beats Cassidy, it would be difficult politically to appoint Cassidy with the intent of giving the appointee a leg up in 2016. If Cassidy wins, he’s already taken care of.

The most logical thing then for Vitter would be to appoint Jindal. Note that the two are very different politicians, which to some degree has set them up as competitors in Louisiana GOP politics. Jindal is an ideas guy who wants to transform the culture of the state, while Vitter places more emphasis on the building of an infrastructure to use political power based on realizing a similar set of ideas. Jindal wants to use ideas to persuade people of his leadership, while Vitter wants to lead by having the organizational muscle to implement. They are complementary but different ways of governing. This is not to say that Jindal won’t throw around clout to get things done, nor that Vitter doesn’t regularly make philosophical pronouncements about policy, only that they are valued in a different order to the pair.

So if Vitter wishes to become the king of the state’s Republican Party and to use it to mold policy, by exiling Jindal to Washington, he removes his main factional competitor to the hearts and minds of the state’s party faithful. By indulging Jindal in his presumed preference for national policy-making, big ideas on a bigger stage, Vitter better enables himself to achieve what he apparently wants – dominance of the state political scene. It also assures the seat will stay in GOP hands – with a free ride for Jindal for almost a year, could any Democrat seriously have a chance to knock him off?

A Vitter move to Baton Rouge also quietly acknowledges reality – because of his “serious sin” admission a half-dozen years ago, he never will rise above his current station in the Senate GOP nor in national politics. But a return to state governance is quite realistic and provides a whole new and intriguing challenge for him to play out his ambitions. For his part, if he thinks he needs Senate service, if he can get Vitter on this same page this is a much safer electoral route for Jindal to pursue. Even if Vitter didn’t cooperate in this way, Jindal would be a formidable Senate candidate in 2016, although Jindal could point out he could be quite helpful for a Vitter gubernatorial camapign in exchange. By contrast, Jindal’s chances are weaker in 2014, even if Cassidy bowed out (perhaps in the hopes Vitter ran and won the governorship, then appointed him senator).

This ought to be a subject of very quiet conversation between Vitter and Jindal, if it hasn’t happened already. It maximizes the chances of both getting what they want for future political careers. If there’s any ill-will between them, they’ll benefit most by remembering about politics and strange bedfellows. Only if Vitter were to take a complete pass on succeeding him, or if Jindal is convinced Vitter can’t win, should Jindal, in a move of some desperation, challenge Cassidy and Landrieu.

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