It’s now Day 3 of my countdown of the top five reasons why Bobby Jindal will not be president in 2016, or ever, despite his non-stop campaigning in key caucus and primary states. We started on Tuesday with Reason #5 (He’s from Louisiana — Duh!) and continued yesterday with Reason No. 4 (He doesn’t “look presidential”).
Now it’s time to roll out Reason No. 3:
He’s too timid to be a frontrunner, and the GOP loves frontrunners. If the definition of boldness is the willingness 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 frontrunner, 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 frontrunner, 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 or Massachusetts. John McCain often bucked the party line in the U.S. Senate. He began the 2008 primary season as the frontrunner, withstood attacks from several rivals, and held on to win the nomination.
Going back decades, GOP frontrunners — nominees all — set themselves apart: George W. Bush was a “compassionate 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 frontrunners, because they are bold. Underdogs, especially those who play it safe, get kicked to the curb.
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 frontrunners 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 frontrunner — or wind up with the nomination.
Tomorrow: Reason No. 2
Clancy DuBos is publisher of Gambit and BestOfNewOrleans.com, where this article first appeared.