Folks I talk to are quick to dismiss Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential ambitions. Mention that he’s gearing up for a run and they’ll scoff: “He won’t get elected.”
Now, that’s not a very charitable view. You wouldn’t tell a young, hard-working, slightly naive scholar from one of our charter schools that he or she couldn’t be president.
So why say it about Jindal?
Earlier this month, Gambit political editor Clancy DuBos called Jindal’s bid for national office “delusional.” LaPolitics political writer John Maginnis countered that Jindal’s chances aren’t zero and that he might be trying to hedge his bets by auditioning for the veep spot in 2016.
With all due respect, I beg to differ with both analyses.
First off, presidential candidates require some amount of delusion. It’s essential for any human who believes he or she should lead the most powerful nation in world history. And long-shot candidates who intend to hop from state-level politics to the top of the heap — in only one election cycle, yet! — well, they need a double serving of delusion.
But that’s not such a bad thing. DuBos himself observed that sometimes candidates who ignore the odds can actually improve their chances. It’s true. Over time, “delusion” can start to look like perseverance. If a talented candidate adheres to an ambitious strategy, at some point he or she might find that opening. (Then it becomes a matter of sticking a paddle deep in the political rapids and attempting to jet through the sluice.)
After all, Jindal wouldn’t be the first “sure loser” to prove the oddsmakers wrong. Take a look at the record:
In 1990, then-governor Bill Clinton was crazy to consider challenging an incumbent president in the aftermath of the first Iraq War. And what about Barack Obama’s national ambitions circa 2006 — silly dreams, right?
So, can Jindal become president?
Read my lips: Yes. He. Can.
Yikes. Now you think I’m deluded. Notice, I didn’t specify a year. But that’s sort of the key here, when properly assessing Jindal’s prospects. Our governor is taking a longer view than most realize. He’s looking at the presidency and will soon be pursuing it in earnest. But, further ahead, perhaps after a successful eight years in the White House, he plans to return to the “best job he’s ever had” — in the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge.
(No, I’m not on drugs.)
I take issue with Maginnis’ suggestion that Jindal is running simultaneously for the presidency and the vice presidency. Simply put, that doesn’t work. You can’t run for both at the same time. And I think Jindal knows it’s a losing strategy. A thousand times better to run hard for the presidency even at the risk of irritating a potential nominee who might then pass you over for veep.
Recall that Jindal’s political hero, Ronald Reagan, ran for president multiple times; first in 1968 after serving only two years as governor of California. He lost, bided his time, and challenged a sitting Republican president in 1976 — delusional, right? Four years later Reagan was 69 when he ran against an incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, won 44 states and went on to serve two terms.
Conversely, remember Joe Biden in the 2008 campaign for president? That’s what running for veep looks like, and no one would mistake it for a serious bid for the presidency. Or, better yet, remember Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 bid? The one where, in an early debate, he refused to say the word “Obamneycare” and thus deride future nominee Mitt Romney? Pawlenty didn’t want to foreclose the veep spot, so he played it safe and looked weak. He soon dropped out, campaigned tirelessly for Romney and was passed over when it came time for Romney to complete the ticket.
Primary voters sense it if your heart isn’t in a presidential run. If they see a candidate who would be happy to play second fiddle, they’ll dismiss him and look for a lesser candidate who is deluded enough to think he should be president and will go full-throttle, 100 percent, again and again. Jindal understands he’s not going to run a perfect campaign. He’ll probably make a mistake and go down in 2016. It might require multiple tries — just like it did for Reagan.
There will be plenty of time to assess Jindal’s particular strengths and weaknesses over the next two years, but for now I’ll make a few observations. On the plus side, Jindal is perhaps uniquely positioned to bring a number of elements of the GOP together. He won’t get outflanked to his right, and he can draw equally enthusiastic support from religious “fundagelicals” and the pro-business think-tank crowd, like GOP kingmaker Grover Norquist.
Still think Jindal has no chance? Then let’s turn it around. What GOP candidates are better positioned? Which Republican candidate is such a colossus, such an indomitable shoo-in, that Jindal shouldn’t even bother?
Fellow governor Scott Walker is mired in an email scandal in Wisconsin. The ever-evolving Bridgegate scandal has seriously damaged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s chances. Sen. Rand Paul is a favorite — but he’s also a libertarian who is inexperienced in national politics. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, could run a polished campaign, but is the electorate ready for another Bush, after the disastrous end to his brother’s terms in office? Other favorites exist, and still more could emerge, but none of them are immune to scandal or blunder.
Jindal’s got a decent shot at the presidency. And that’s what he’s aiming for.