…or perhaps HHS.
He’s not really running for president. Anybody with a pair of functioning eyes can see that he’s wasting his time trying to get the 2016 Republican nomination; Jindal lacks any of the assets a successful candidate for president needs.
He’s not from a large state. Were Jindal the governor of Texas, or Florida, or California or even Virginia or Ohio, he would be able to claim experience governing on a large scale as a qualification for the highest office in the land. Not to mention governing a large state gives you a large amount of media exposure. As governor of Louisiana, you get little of that – Louisiana has only one media market of sufficient size for the national news networks to maintain a bureau, and New Orleans isn’t even the state capitol – so his media prominence as a governor is nearly nil.
He doesn’t have a signature accomplishment. This is not to say Jindal hasn’t done anything as Louisiana’s governor. To the contrary, he’s presided over some structural changes to state government that will have lasting positive effect. But privatizing the state’s charity hospitals, when no other state has charity hospitals, doesn’t quite resonate the way Scott Walker gutting the public-sector unions in Wisconsin does. And Jindal’s school-choice reforms, while unquestionably a step forward and highly likely to bring improvement in results over time, have been trumped by developments elsewhere – Nevada, for example. Had he been able to couple those reforms with a massive overhaul of Louisiana’s Byzantine tax system plus some meaningful pension reforms,or perhaps come up with an innovative solution for financing major improvements to Louisiana’s transportation infrastructure, he would have a record far more suggestive of presidential ambitions.
Jindal also fails on a key qualification; namely, he’s not a good budgeter. He’s never had a handle on Louisiana’s budget and he’s mostly been driven by events rather than driving them. It wasn’t his idea to repeal the Stelly tax, for example – the legislature, and in particular Democrats in the legislature, offered that up almost as a “modest proposal” and almost on a whim it passed even despite Jindal’s trepidation. Repealing Stelly wasn’t a bad idea, but to make it work Jindal needed to embark on a massive reformation of state government – putting tax credits to bed, killing state programs, ending subsidies to local governments and so on. Instead, as the Katrina dollars dried up and the Obama stimulus money also melted away, Jindal found himself attempting to finance a Democrat-sized state government with a Republican-sized tax base. And year by year he patched together his budget by raiding dollars from dedicated parts of the state fisc – not a terrible idea, but not a particularly sustainable one either.
And once the price of oil took a dive, Jindal ran out of time. He’s now running for president having signed almost a billion dollars in tax increases into law this year, and should he gain any traction in the Republican field it’s unquestionable that he’ll be called to account for that.
What’s more, Jindal doesn’t have the skill as a politician to survive as a presidential candidate. Something you notice about the contenders in the top tier – Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, even Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee – is that they’re quite good as retail politicians and they understand political strategy and, to varying degrees, how to position themselves on an issue in order to build credibility. With Jindal, you don’t get a lot of evidence of that. He’s had a long string of bumpy incidents in trying to make himself relevant on the national stage – palling around with the Duck Dynasty crew when they were on the wane with the public, getting pounded over the question of European “no-go” zones while on a trip to London, irritating lots of people in the GOP by talking about it as the “Stupid Party” without giving context (Jindal would have done himself some good had he tempered his discussion of the GOP’s record of political incompetence with the caveat that the other side of the old Washington saw held that the Democrats are the Evil Party), and so on.
Inside Louisiana, Jindal’s failure to properly message issues in advance of trying to move them has become almost a thing of legend. You have to be able to sell yourself and your ideas if you’re going to win the White House, and it’s hard to do that when you don’t even show up – as he proved by letting that sinkhole in Assumption Parish fester for two months while he was off making speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire two years before the 2016 campaign ever began. On other issues Jindal and his people were thoroughly incompetent in generating rollouts of initiatives. He wanted to get rid of SUNO, the worst public college in America, and failed because his solution was, instead of to just kill it, to merge it with UNO when his House Speaker at the time was a UNO alumnus who wanted no part of absorbing SUNO. He wanted to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with a sales tax built along Fair Tax principles, but never consulted with the state’s business groups in advance of designing a plan and ultimately put himself in a position of trying to sell small businesses a change from paying four percent of their net to paying six percent of their gross. And then there was this year’s debacle with the SAVE Act, in which a gimmicky dodge of accountability for tax increases to fund higher education was presented without the one decent selling point it offered; namely, that SAVE was the first significant effort at a statutory dedication for the state’s colleges.
And then there is the inability to get along with David Vitter. There are those who will tell you Vitter tends to be a lone wolf of sorts and he’s not easy to ally with, but a lot more people say that about Jindal. The state’s Republican governor and Republican senator should never have been at such odds as they have been over the last eight years, but that relationship has always been poor. And rather than an asset and an ally, which Vitter could have been, the senator who is running for Jindal’s current job can be counted on to torpedo him if ever he gets traction.
To get elected president, you can’t have a string of political failures as a governor on your record. Jindal does, and worse that string didn’t come at the beginning of his governorship but rather toward the end. That’s why he’s running despite an approval rating in Louisiana of some 31 percent and polling indicating he actually loses, 44.5-42, against Hillary Clinton in his own state.
So today’s campaign rollout isn’t likely to generate much buzz or put Jindal in the top 10-12 candidates in a hopelessly packed Republican field. A more realistic hope is that Louisiana’s current governor might generate just enough support that, if he were able to ally himself with the eventual nominee, he’ll have created enough political stroke to rate a cabinet post dealing with issues he has expertise in. Jindal could be valuable working at Energy or HHS, or even Education – though one would hope if that was his post he’d be in charge of packing the department up, shifting its responsibilities to the states and shutting it down.
That has to be the real goal here. You just can’t go from limping to the finish line of governing a small, relatively poor state to beating more than a dozen candidates for a major party’s nomination and winning the presidency. There may be lots of goals Jindal hopes to accomplish with today’s announcement, but the stated one he has to know isn’t realistic.