I wouldn’t want Bobby Jindal to be president. He’s too far to the right for me and seems very sympathetic to christianism (also known as politicized “christianity”), which I find morally repugnant.
But – as a reform-minded governor of a notoriously corrupt state, as a policy wonk, and as someone who has demonstrated fine political judgment – the Republican party has many worse choices.
I do think that Jindal will have some trouble navigating his way past three political realities in the Republican party.
The first is nativism. McCain’s campaign certainly struck a nativist chord at times – and certainly that was some significant part of his electoral appeal – as the extreme remarks reported at many of his rallies attest. I do not think John McCain is personally a racist (or nativist) and I don’t believe most Republicans or McCain voters are either. But some significant percentage of McCain’s support seemed to be based at least partially on racial animus. Certainly there are racist and nativist elements in the Democratic party – and they are part of the reason it was such a struggle for Obama to gain the support of the full party. Jindal would need to face a similar task – except one complicated by the fact that the Republican party has become – especially since this past election – the party for nativists.
The second current within the Republican party that could complicate Jindal’s rise within the party is anti-elitism. Jindal might actually be able to use this anti-elitism as a tool in a general election campaign – calling on populism more easily than the more technocratic-oriented Democrats while still maintaining respectability with his expertise and knowledge. But within the party itself, expert opinion has been demonized – as David Brooks has noticed. The Bush administration itself is a demonstration of the elevation of politics over expertise – as it censored scientists in official reports and ignored even the expertise of the military in it’s ill-planned invasion or Iraq and ignored the nation-building experts at the State Department as it planned for the aftermath of the invasion.
Jindal is – by most accounts – a wonk, a expert with detailed knowledge of arcane policy matters. I don’t know how he incorporates this knowledge into his style – but if he can’t figure out how to make his point, and then, winking conclude, “You betcha” with a smile or a similar faux-folksy tic – it’ll be tough for him to win in the Republican party.
The third factor complicating Jindal’s potential in 2012 is that the Republican party has almost always gone to the next in line in nominations for the presidency. How else can one explain how Gerald Ford beat out Ronald Reagan in 1976 or how Bob Dole beat all comers in 1996? It’s hard to say who is next in line to assume leadership of the Republican party today – but it’s not Jindal. A plausible case could be made for Sarah Palin, or Mitt Romney, or even Mike Huckabee.
Jindal though had the good sense to stay out of this toxic national environment for his party (h/t Andrew Sullivan):
While the official reason that Jindal took his name out of contention was his lack of a desire to leave the Louisiana governorship, there was also real trepidation within his political inner circle that Jindal might wind up as the pick – McCain was attracted to his comprehensive health-care knowledge – and be caught up in what they believed to be a less-than-stellar campaign that could pin a loss on Jindal without much ability to change or control the direction of the contest.
Although this gives Jindal an advantage in the longer term, it puts him advantage in 2012. The smart move would be for him to run for president in 2012 and aim to come up as a strong number two – and presuming a Democratic reelection, this sets him up for 2016 with national exposure and a decently long track record. Of course, if Obama’s presidency is widely seen as a disaster in 2012, Jindal might be wise to aim to win the nomination. But even then – given the difficulties of unseating a sitting president up for reelection, and the unlikelihood of the Republican party turning again to a loser of a national race – it might still make sense for Jindal to aim for 2016.
All that said – Jindal is the candidate who is the best of the field for the Republicans come 2012 – and his fight in the Republican party is one I can sympathize with.
My one non-policy concern about Jindal – from my limited knowledge – is what I understand to be his christianist politics. It seems that this is quickly becoming a requirement for a Republican aiming for national leadership – as John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson found out. But I find this conflation of religion and politics to be discomfiting – and would prefer a more libertarian-minded conservatism. Jindal’s conservatism though seems to owe more to his religious faith than his desire for limited government.