Over at TNR’s The Plank, they’ve begun a discussion of 2012 Republican contenders.
Bobby Jindal is one candidate who I think has the chops to truly challenge Obama if he were to run in 2012- as a reform-minded governor who has strong relationships with the conservatives and christianists in the Republican party that does not contradict his independent streak and reform instincts. McCain’s maverick streak often came at the expense of his party and especially the christianist base. But I think that Christopher Orr might be right when he points out that this campaign has hurt Jindal more than any other Republican candidates –
…a large portion of the GOP’s closing argument this cycle has been to stoke white, working class fear and suspicion of the Other. The dark-skinned man with the foreign-sounding name may be a Muslim, or a socialist, or a friend of terrorists, or a racial huckster, or a fake U.S. citizen, or some other vague kind of “radical.” You may never be sure which he is (maybe all of the above), but in your gut you simply don’t “know” him the way you know the other candidates. This is not, to put it mildly, a message likely to benefit Bobby Jindal.
I don’t think this rules Jindal out. Although campaign messages and narratives have a way sinking in for partisans more than actual policy positions (see the Hillary Clinton primary voters), a good candidate, the right circumstances, and the right policy messages can counteract that (see the Hillary Clinton primary voters.)
Daniel Larison (and David Weigel over at Reason seems to agree) thinks that this the fallout from the election of Obama given the campaign McCain has run would have precisely the opposite effect Orr predicts:
…never underestimate the Republican desire to get on the high horse of anti-racism and egalitarianism, to say nothing of the even greater desire to demonstrate that they are in no way racist…
I agree with that as well – but as Larison points out – this especially applies to the “elite Republicans” and less so to the rank-and-file. I think Larison undestimates the poisonous atmosphere that is motivating much of the vicious anti-Obama rhetoric and fear though – an atmosphere that McCain and Palin decided at one point to stoke.
But what I think both miss is that – although if the VP nominee had been Jindal this time around, the Republicans would have rallied to him, because racism is not inherently Republican – by running a campaign that stokes fears of the “foreign,” the Republican party has changed.
If McCain loses – and probably if he wins, but slower – the Republican party is due for a crack-up – as all the various factions fight over what vision they have for America and for their party.
Sarah Palin is clearly a contender – representing the old-style class warfare with a new wink and nice clothes. Most of the neoconservatives will back her, at least to start the 2012 positioning.
Bobby Jindal would be the new fresh face, the reform-minded christianist with an independent streak – the closest to the McCain brand without the baggage of being labeled a traitor by much of the party. He will be the candidate of the Republican elite, the candidate of David Brooks, of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. He’ll be the guy whose candidacy will attempt to reform the Republican party with a new policy focus.
Mitt Romney would be the business candidate – and the one with the most chits to cash in. He’ll be the safe choice, the establishment candidate, the next in line.
Mike Huckabee would be the nice guy, the runner-up again. This time around, most prominent evangelicals will back him.
The dark horse, again, will be Newt Gingrich – who this year declined to enter the race after long and public deliberation.
And so, in 2012, the candidates would neatly divide the Republican party into old-style and reform, business and christianist. It’s hard to imagine someone other than Romney taking it with this crowd though. Jindal is the one to watch – the guy who would be able to pull the Republicans out of this most quickly.