Since he became governor, it's been the worst-kept secret in Louisiana politics: Bobby Jindal can't wait to leave Louisiana and run for president. Despite his boilerplate "I have the job I want" response to early inquiries about his frequent fundraising trips to early caucus and key primary states, Jindal could never plausibly deny his higher ambitions.
So much so that he recently admitted "everybody knows" he is "thinking" about it. Consider that a prelude to "praying over" his decision and "talking it over with his family" before officially announcing the obvious.
In typical Jindal fashion, the rollout of his budding candidacy was tightly scripted and contrived. In late March, Jindal told the Heritage Foundation's conservative news service, "It's something we're thinking about. It's something we'll pray about." In early April, he told National Public Radio, "There's a practical benefit to having governors run for president."
But even an eternal political optimist like Jindal must admit that he faces a long, uphill climb to win the Republican nomination, let alone the White House. At least a half-dozen other Republicans consistently poll better than he does among GOP voters looking to 2016.
Jindal admirers note that he's still young (he's 42), and that's true. He could factor into the next four presidential contests as a candidate or potential candidate — but so could the men who are his current GOP competitors: Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, also 42; Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, 43; U.S. Rep. (and former vice presidential nominee) Paul Ryan, 44; and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, 53.
For now, Jindal's best shot at the White House appears to be on the coattails of a GOP presidential nominee as his or her vice presidential running mate. No one officially runs for vice president, of course. You have to start by running for president and distinguishing yourself without alienating the eventual nominee. That's not easy for a guy whose stock in trade is bashing other politicians.
And that's the easy part. If the nation (and the national media) ever takes a close look at Jindal, there's liable to be plenty they won't like. Here are five key reasons why Bobby Jindal will never, ever be president:
He's from Louisiana — Duh!
We Louisianans love our state, with all of its eccentricities, but the rest of the country thinks of us as America's crazy aunt in the attic, someone fun to visit but not someone you'd put in charge of the household. Politically, we have burnished our reputation as a cauldron of corruption, a banana republic that somehow attained statehood while America wasn't looking. That's hardly the launching pad for a conservative, button-down GOP candidate for president.
In our nation's 225-year history of electing presidents, only one had Louisiana ties. Zachary Taylor was born in Virginia and spent his youth in Kentucky before moving to Louisiana. A slave owner and Army general, he was elected president in 1848 because of his military success in the Mexican-American War. Interestingly, voters at the time knew next to nothing about Taylor's political philosophy; He was a popular war hero, and that was enough.
Chances are voters in 2016 and beyond will know a lot about Bobby Jindal's politics, but his bio will always begin with the fact that he comes from a state associated with voodoo, reality TV shows that sometimes require subtitles, Bourbon Street, rich food, philandering politicians and preachers, and other forms of weirdness.
Jindal's own weirdness — participating in an exorcism while at college, delivering one of his children at home (it was an emergency, he says), defending Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson after Robertson's homophobic and racially bigoted remarks to a national magazine, and his slavish suck-ups to the Religious Right — may make him popular among some on the GOP fringe, but it will be a huge turnoff to the nation's moderate voters who typically cast the deciding ballots in close presidential contests.
No one knows that better than the candidate (whoever it might be) who will be on top of the GOP ticket in 2016. After the Sarah Palin debacle of 2008, no Republican nominee is likely to roll the dice on a little-known "game changer" for veep — no matter how pithy his or her sound bites may be.
He doesn't "look presidential."
Admittedly, this sounds like a really shallow observation, but let's face it: American presidential elections are basically popularity contests that focus largely on charisma and good looks, with some emphasis on philosophy thrown in for good measure. If voters (including those in party primaries) really focused on qualifications and experience more than appearances and other superficial qualities, Barack Obama never would have beaten Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and John McCain would have soundly defeated George W. Bush for the GOP nod in 2000. There are many other examples.
The importance of "looking presi-dential" infects both political parties, but let's focus on the GOP, because that's where Jindal has to compete. Consider the Republican presidential nominees of the past three decades:
• Mitt Romney had perfect hair and chiseled looks, but he also had a successful business career and governed Massachusetts.
• John McCain was a decorated Vietnam War Navy pilot with a knack for "straight talk" and swimming against the tide as a U.S. Senator.
• George W. Bush was the guy we all wanted to have a beer with, but he also had that Texas swagger and disarming charm. It helped that he was a business owner and Texas governor.
• Bob Dole was a decorated World War II soldier (Army) who spent decades shaping national policy as a leading U.S. senator.
• George H.W. Bush was a decorated World War II Navy fighter pilot who later went to Congress, led the CIA and served as vice president.
• Ronald Reagan literally had movie-star looks and served as California's governor.
All of these guys looked like presidents even before they became president, or nominees for president. Jindal, on the other hand, looks like an extra on The Big Bang Theory. That may sound harsh, but presidential politics is not for sissies.
Nor, it seems, is it for geeks.
He's too timid to be a front-runner, and the GOP loves front-runners.
If the definition of boldness is the wil-lingness to risk one's political capital to pursue the greater good, Bobby Jindal is the opposite of bold. Given the choice between risking his political capital and playing it safe, you can count on Jindal to play it safe every time.
The only time in his six-year-plus tenure as governor that anyone called one of Jindal's initiatives "bold" was when he pushed a plan to replace Louisiana's middling income tax with the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the nation. The plan was hatched by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and endorsed by every conservative think tank in the land, which hardly qualifies it as "bold." If anything, it was a typical Jindal ploy; It played to the bleachers of the GOP's most conservative chorus.
Why is this important?
Because you don't get to the front of the pack by playing it safe. To be a front-runner, you have to distinguish yourself. You don't have to commit political suicide, but cheerleading louder than everyone else won't suffice. You have to swim against the tide sometimes — as a matter of principle, not political expediency. Jindal has never done that, and he's not likely to start. He just doesn't have it in him.
Consider the men who have captured the GOP presidential nomination in recent decades: Every one of them began the primary season as the front-runner, and every one of them distinguished himself in some way that was not typically Republican.
Mitt Romney started the primary season as the front-runner in 2012 after instituting an Obama-esque health care plan as governor of Massachusetts. John McCain often bucked the party line in the U.S. Senate. He began the 2008 primary season as the front-runner, withstood attacks from several rivals, and held on to win the nomination.
Going back decades, GOP front-runners — nominees all — set themselves apart: George W. Bush was a "com-passionate conservative" who backed immigration reform; Bob Dole was a pragmatic compromiser who supported civil rights as a senator; and George H.W. Bush dismissed Ronald Reagan's economic platform as "voodoo economics." The GOP loves front-runners, because they are bold. Underdogs, especially those who play it safe, get kicked to the curb.
- Photo by Cheryl Gerber
- Jindal's best shot at the White House appears to be on the coattails of a GOP presidential nominee as his or her vice presidential running mate.
That's bad news for Bobby Jindal. He barely registers among GOP voters because he has done nothing to set himself apart from any other platitude-spouting wannabe. An April survey of GOP voters nationwide by McClatchy newspapers and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion had Jindal tied for eighth place with just 4 percent of the vote. He just doesn't inspire.
Perhaps Jindal is laying groundwork for a run in 2020 or later. At 42 (his birthday is June 10), he has time to grow as a candidate. That strategy worked for others. Ronald Reagan, for example, ran against front-runners Richard Nixon in 1968 and Gerald Ford in 1976 before capturing the nomination and the presidency in 1980. George H.W. Bush ran against Reagan in 1980, then got picked as Reagan's running mate and became The Gipper's logical successor. Dole ran against Reagan in 1980 and against the elder Bush in 1988, then captured the nomination in 1996. McCain and Romney took similar paths to the nomination.
Considering Jindal will only be 45 in the summer of 2016, maybe he's looking beyond 2016. A lot could change by 2020 or even 2024 (by which time Jindal will be 55). Then again, some things will never change — Jindal's record as governor, the fact that he doesn't have the gravitas of his current and potential GOP rivals, the fact that he's from Louisiana — and the fact that he is loath to take risks that will place him even slightly outside the ultra-conservative stream.
Given all that, it's hard to imagine the GOP presidential field ever being weak enough to let Bobby Jindal start out as the front-runner — or wind up with the nomination.