Month after month, week after week, Gov. Bobby Jindal labors to make himself relevant to the 2016 presidential election. Every week, Jindal make some (increasingly) desperate attempt for attention and relevance. Each week, he gives an interview to a national media organization. He’s forever issuing statements attacking Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul — and even former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. At least once a month, it seems, he pops up on one of the Sunday morning news shows. He stalks the GOP candidate circuit from Iowa to New Hampshire to Washington to Disney World. He’s written an op-ed in almost every newspaper in the United States.
On the rare occasion he makes an appearance in Louisiana, he’s done everything possible to establish himself as a champion of “religious freedom.” He signed an executive order to give license to businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. He’s even championed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage.
Despite having made a wreck of the state’s budget (including structural deficits for years), he’s also sold his soul to Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Although he has approved more than $700 million in tax increases (using a phony offset scheme he and Norquist devised), Jindal desperately wants GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire to see him as the candidate most violently against tax increases.
In other words, Jindal has done everything possible to position himself for a serious run at the White House.
After all that effort, Jindal is mired at 1 percent in most national polls of GOP voters. In one recent survey, he was dead last, in 16th place, at 0 percent. In some cases, he’s not even included the polls.
By the standards set at Fox News and CNN, it does not appear that Jindal will make the cut for the early televised debates. The networks may relegate him to the TV equivalent of the children’s table, where he would spar with other also-rans like Donald Trump, Cary Fiorina and George Pataki.
Jindal must be asking himself every night: “What’s wrong? Why aren’t my efforts paying off? Why is my campaign stuck like Gorilla Glue at 1 percent?”
Well, here are at least 13 reasons that come to my mind. I would invite you to add your own reasons in the comments sections below.
1. He’s like a pudding with no theme. Despite having tried to stake out the “religious freedom” issue, it doesn’t appear that most GOP voters know much about Jindal and his fierce fight for their freedoms. They don’t appear to associate him with any major issue, policy achievement or ideology. Sen. Rand Paul is the Libertarian. Sen. Ted Cruz is the tea party favorite. Gov. Scott Walker is the guy who battled the unions. Sen. Marcio Rubio is Cuban and might attract more Latinos to the GOP. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee was a Baptist preacher and is known for his ability to relate to the Christian right. Former Gov. Jeb Bush has the last name “Bush.” What, exactly, is Jindal known for, unless it’s a bad habit of latching onto the issue of the week with the most extreme and ridiculous position possible?
2. He’s governor of Louisiana. Jindal has said that the voters should be looking to elect a governor because governors have executive experience. The problem is that he’s governor of Louisiana, a state not exactly known for its success or innovation in many policy areas, unless you admire us for having some of the nation’s worst crime and poverty, as well as the country’s highest incarceration rate. Under Jindal’s rule, the state’s budget has also been in a constant state of turmoil. As for its economy, the Louisiana has the nation’s sixth-highest unemployment rate.
3. He’s not a natural politician/campaigner. Jindal too often comes off as robotic, cold and humorless. In person, I’m sure he’s a decent guy who’s fun to be around (I’m not really sure of that, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this.) The guy is certainly not a natural politician. He’s not the worst, but to climb to the top of the heap in a presidential primary race, he must ramp up his game considerably. The bad news is this not a quality that most politicians can change about themselves in a month or two. You are generally a natural campaigner who connects with audiences, or you are not.
4. He doesn’t make full use of his first-generation American story. Jindal talks a bit about his dad coming to America with almost nothing and making a good life for his family. But he doesn’t make much of the fact that he is a first-generation American. He rarely, if ever, mentions his Indian roots. In fact, Jindal goes out of his way to attack the very idea of hyphenated Americans. In doing so, he may be depriving his campaign of a compelling story.
5. He has the scent of desperation about him. He’s made too many gaffes and too many dumb statements. It’s not just his nationally televised face plant in 2009, responding to President Obama’s speech to Congress (most recently ridiculed by Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show”); it’s a puzzling stream of gaffes and strange statements that usually seem to get him into the news for all the wrong reasons. For example, instead of making news for his foreign policy expertise, Jindal was ridiculed for a week or more over his strange and unsubstantiated allegations in London about European “no-go zones.” Most recently, there was his silly attack on former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee over the metric system. Jindal once lectured his party about the need to stop acting stupid. Too often, these days, Jindal looks like the leader of his party’s Stupid Wing.
6. He changes messages too often. Jindal has talked often about “religious freedom,” but that’s not enough to win the nomination. He needs a larger, better and more compelling issue. He clearly hasn’t found it. Instead, Jindal seems to bounce from message to message. A candidate with 10 messages is a candidate with no message. Each week finds Jindal commenting about something or attacking someone new. He clearly wishes to be seen as the most aggressive candidate in the race – the guy who can pick a fight and finish it. The problem is that he’s running for president by playing the message version of “Whack-a-Mole.” That’s has not been a successful strategy.
7. He doesn’t have a signature policy innovation to tout. Perhaps one reason Jindal does not have that signature issue is that his accomplishments in Louisiana are so thin. He cannot point to one policy innovation – something he conceived or invented – that he can recommend to the rest of the nation. He will talk about education “reform,” for sure, but nothing he has done in that area was his idea. He has simply – and ineptly – enacted the policy ideas of others. There is not one thing about which Jindal can say in Iowa, “In Louisiana, I developed and implemented this idea, which the rest of the states should adopt.” He has nothing. For a guy who was said to be a policy wonk, he has been a policy flop. His “American Next” organization might be touting some new ideas, but none of them have been implemented in Louisiana.
8. He’s in the wrong candidate lane, competing with too many other social conservatives. If there is any Republican group Jindal has tried to court, it’s been Christian evangelicals. The problem is that this lane is already crowded with people who have a longer history and much more credibility with the Christian right: Huckabee, Rick Santorum and, to a lesser extent, Ted Cruz. Jindal has clearly not connected with that group. There is no evidence that he will.
9. He is the least popular governor in the country. I’m not sure how much it has penetrated the ranks of Iowa caucus goers yet, but Jindal is deeply unpopular in Louisiana. He is likely the least popular governor in the country. That has influenced the way the national press regards him. His profound unpopularity among the voters who know him best certainly hasn’t helped him establish his credibility among GOPers around the country.
10. He is too exotic for GOP voters. He is Indian, a former Hindu and once performed an exorcism. While he may not talk about his Indian roots, GOP voters clearly know that he is a minority. To the extent there is racial intolerance in the Republican Party (perish the thought!), it cannot help Jindal. These are many of the same people who have never trusted Obama because they think he’s a foreigner – who might also be a Muslim. Jindal was raised a Hindu and converted to Catholicism in his teens. I’m sure he’s a true believer, but he may simply be too exotic for some very conservative and intolerant people on the right. And, then, there’s the odd fact of Jindal’s college exorcism, which will surely come up if he should start moving in the polls.
11. The memories of his 2009 response to Obama still weigh him down. That dreadful speech was many years ago, but it remains vivid in the minds of too many people. As mentioned earlier, Jimmy Fallon showed the speech’s hilarious opening on his show last week and got a huge laugh merely by making fun of the way Jindal walked. The memory of that disaster has adhered to Jindal like a bad tattoo. He cannot remove it. As evidenced by the reaction of Fallon’s audience, the speech causes many people to see Jindal as a joke or a buffoon.
12. His image of a last-place, also-ran is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. The opposite is also true: nothing sucks like sucking. The longer Jindal stays in the cellar, mired at 1 percent or zero, the more the image of “hapless loser” will stick to him.
13. He has terrible political advisors. Consider everything I have listed in many of the 12 points above. Almost everything Jindal has done, he’s done because someone he pays handsomely has advised him to do it. Jindal is clearly getting dreadful political advice from someone. I’m not sure that firing his political advisors would change much at this point, but could a new campaign team help make him any less popular?