All Of A Sudden, The Jindal-In-2016 Train Is Picking Up Passengers

Gov. Bobby Jindal is now an attractive presidential candidate for 2016.

At least, that’s what Paul Mirengoff at Power Line is saying now.

In a piece talking about Jindal’s think tank America Next and the rollout of its 42-point domestic energy plan (which you can view here), Mirengoff can’t help himself. He launches into an examination of Jindal as a 2016 contender, wondering whether a policy wonk can win…

My view is that a policy wonk can, indeed, be the GOP nominee. Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination as a wonk in 1992. I doubt that today’s Republican voters are less interested in policy or less impressed by the mastery of it than Dems were back then.

Clinton, however, was also a masterful politician. The real question, it seems to me, is whether Jindal has what it takes as a politician.

His address to the Heritage Foundation left me thinking he very well might. Jindal is an impressive public speaker. Today, he spoke without relying on notes except when he cited statistics or ticked off agenda items. He presents forcefully but without sounding strident. My one criticism is that he delivers a little too rapidly. If he runs for president, Jindal will need to slow it down on the campaign trail.

The question and answer session, which included questions about foreign policy and education, offered a good opportunity to observe Jindal in a less wonkish mode. He proved capable of delivering standard Republican talking points effectively. He also displayed a pretty good sense of humor, though little folksiness. And he proved adroit in answering questions from liberals in the audience.

A potential candidate’s nomination prospects can’t fully be evaluated in a vacuum. They always depend on the rest of the field. Few would have thought in 2007 that the Republicans were likely to nominate John McCain.

It’s earlier days yet, but the likely 2016 Republican field appears to provide space for Jindal. Rand Paul and Chris Christie would both be unacceptable to a large chunk of the Party.

And a finale…

If Jindal runs for president, he will need to impress both as a wonk and as a traditional politician. Today, he seemed capable of this. But the trick will be to know when to come across as the one and when to come across as the other.

Plus, there’s National Review’s Jim Geraghty this morning in his daily e-mail blast…

Republicans in early primary states, listen up.

There’s a really good chance that early next year, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will run for president. Maybe his wife Supriya will wake up one morning and decide she can’t stand the thought, or maybe the governor will decide he doesn’t want to spend so much time away from his (fairly young) children. But otherwise, he looks like a man who wants to be president. Put another way, governors don’t issue national policy plans on health-care or energy policy if they’re not interested in running for president.

I’m not saying you early state-primary Republicans have to vote for Jindal. But you do have to hear him out. Don’t let a guy this good end up leaving the field early because he couldn’t get traction in your state.

Does Jindal have flaws? Sure. Some people’s perceptions of Jindal are locked in amber from that 2009 response to Obama. Yes, he talks too fast and his drawl is thick. He might be the first presidential candidate who will need subtitles. Yes, I wish he was few inches taller and bulked up a bit.

But if your measuring stick for the next president is, “How well has this guy managed what he can control, in his state?”, then he might be the best of the field. I know, Rick Perry’s got a pretty solid record in Texas, too. Yes, Scott Walker can make a decent case as well.

But in addition to a strong record of executive leadership, turning around a state in deep trouble when he became governor, he’s one of the few Republicans who can hit the folksy notes but is also fluent in policy wonkery at the granular level.

Yesterday, in a meeting with some conservative bloggers at the Heritage Foundation, Jindal went on the attack on environmental policy, calling the Obama administration “denialists.”

He pointed out he Chinese have added more coal capacity in the past few years than the entire U.S. capacity. “The U.S. currently exports 10 percent of coal,” then asking, how does our shipping our coal to other countries with even less pollution controls help the environment?

He contended that environmentalists turn against forms of energy as soon as they become widespread and inexpensive: “You see it in their shift on natural gas,” Jindal said. “When it was scarce and expensive, they liked it.”

Or take a look at his bit of jujitsu on the topic of expanding Medicaid.

He said he saw fewer lawmakers in both parties pushing for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana the second year than in the first year. Asked about how much of the lobbying for Medicaid expansion was fueled by hospitals hoping for more Medicaid payments, Jindal chuckled, “A lot of these entitlement programs are entitlement programs for the people getting the money” — meaning the hospitals and care providers who get paid through the programs.

“In Louisiana, if we expanded Medicaid, for every person who wasn’t insured who signed up, more than one insured person would drop their private plan and go on Medicaid,” Jindal said. “I told [the hospitals], ‘be careful what you ask for — you’re going to trade your commercial payers for your state payers, and what do you think is going to happen when the state starts feeling the squeeze on money?’”

Has any other Republican reframed Medicaid expansion as a short-sighted profit-seeking scheme on the part of big hospitals?

As Jindal said yesterday, conservatives and Republicans shouldn’t be too focused on 2016 when there are real races to be won in 2014. But as a Jindal fan, a bid by the governor would be something to really look forward to in the coming cycle. Win or lose, he would probably elevate the debate and move it beyond dueling rehearsed applause lines.

First, Geraghty is right. Jindal is running. He wouldn’t have turned himself into a lame-duck governor at least a year too early if he wasn’t.

And second, people who look at a politician like Jindal and ask whether he’s of presidential timber need to put his speeches and policy ideas aside for a while and examine how he governs. You can’t do this with a Senator, because legislators don’t really govern, but you can with an executive.First of all, there isn’t much “if” to it. Jindal is going to run in 2016. Whether he can gain any traction to make it into the primary season is the question.

And while Jindal has brought a lot of policy to Louisiana that (1) conservatives ought to really like and (2) will pay major dividends down the road, the other parts of being governor are not particular positives for him.

For example, approachability. The current occupant of the White House is seen as one of the least approachable presidents – whether you’re a member of Congress, a captain of industry or someone in the media – of all time. He’s largely gotten a pass on that to date, but it’s likely he’ll pay the price for it as a lame duck president after the midterms. But absolutely nobody should believe that a Republican presidential candidate or president would be able to follow Obama’s practice of being cut off from anyone who might have a different opinion and succeed into a second term. In fact, if the media couldn’t get to the GOP nominee in 2016 they’d likely pour on double the sycophantic propaganda of Hillary Clinton (or whoever the Democrats’ nominee might be) simply out of spite.

A Republican nominee in 2016 has to have a Reaganesque quality of going up against the Democrat media and beating them in the public eye. The public has to see the Republican nominee as he (or she) would like to be seen, and not as the leftists in the newsrooms would have it. Reagan was able to win that fight; no Republican since has managed to.

Can Jindal? From watching him in Louisiana, the answer seems a clear “no.” Jindal isn’t approachable at all, and he rarely engages with the media – much less wins those engagements. He does very few one-on-one interviews with any media sources, and almost none inside the state. But it’s not just media; some of the state’s business leaders who helped elect him can’t get a return phone call from the Governor and they’re fairly exercised about that fact.

Not to mention the state legislature. He’s not liked at all in the legislature. Some of that is for reasons we probably ought to be happy about, but some of it isn’t. There is no reason why Jindal should have such lousy relations with a Cameron Henry or Brett Geymann, for example.

Another problem: retail politics. Jindal does almost none of it. He’ll go somewhere and give a speech, but the gladhandling and baby-kissing of the type you’ll need to do in Iowa or New Hampshire? Not his bag, baby. Jindal is so deficient in the symbolic/feel-good aspects of being a politician that he let that sinkhole grow in Bayou Corne for two months without even doing anything to make folks think he cared.

As political own-goals go, this was a monster. Nobody really expected Jindal to close up that sinkhole, but all he had to do was get in the Suburban and ride 30 minutes to that sinkhole, have the local sheriff and the bureaucrats from DNR, DWF and DEQ show him around, grimace for a few photographers and then make a statement like “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we broker a settlement between Texas Brine and the homeowners here, because it’s not safe to be in a house close to this thing and I think these folks have suffered enough.” At that point, he wouldn’t have to do anything else, because there’s a bureaucratic process to take over, but people want to believe their elected officials give a damn. And Jindal let it go for two months without showing up, which gave the Democrats a “Where’s Bobby?” meme that grew every time he jetted off to Charleston or Manchester or Dubuque to do some politicking or pick up a campaign check.

Perhaps those things shouldn’t disqualify Jindal, but here’s the problem: they’re a major reason why his approval rating in Louisiana is under 50. It’s probably not quite in the 30’s as some of the polls have said, but it’s also not in the 60’s like it used to be. And in a place like Louisiana, where finding a competent governor with good ideas for reform (as Jindal generally is) ranks up there with the yeti and the Loch Ness Monster on the list of improbable encounters, he ought to have better numbers.

And then there’s the problem of a state budget Jindal can’t seem to balance without what looks like magical accounting. That in and of itself isn’t the end of the world; what’s probably worse is that he can’t seem to articulate for the public why the yearly juggling of deficits can’t be put to bed. If Jindal were to come out and say that Medicaid is breaking Louisiana’s bank, for example, or that we have a bloated state bureaucracy which is killing us on payroll and pension costs, or that a state with 4.5 million people and one of the lower high school graduation rates in the country has no business trying to fund 14 separate four-year public colleges while Florida, with 18 million people and a better high school graduation rate has only 12, he might be in a better position to escape the blame for the budget woes. He hasn’t done that, which has led his political opponents to say every nasty thing imaginable about him and his budget.

Can you imagine what the Washington press corps would do to a Republican president who can’t outline his role and challenge in making policy and solving problems?

Jindal’s energy plan is quite good, by the way, and he did a nice job of articulating it in his Heritage Foundation speech yesterday. It serves as a good argument for making him Energy Secretary, just as the America Next health plan was a nice resume piece for a potential stint as a secretary of Health and Human Services in a Republican administration.

But as a presidential candidate? If he wants to run, and he does, let him give it a shot. We don’t think he’s quite prepared to win.

Jindal’s Heritage speech…

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