In the days after Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 election, conservative wunderkind and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal stepped up with harsh criticism for his party. “It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments—enough of that,” he told POLITICO. “It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party.“ Republicans, said Jindal, ”should stop being the stupid party“ and should ”fight for every single vote."
Jindal saw himself as the person who could lead that fight. He could offer a new image for the GOP, without sacrificing its policy positions. And after an aborted attempt at immigration reform—led by the party’s erstwhile star, Florida Senator Marco Rubio—the GOP adopted this approach. New rhetoric and a softer tone, without the divisiveness of new policies.
But, unfortunately for the Louisiana governor, the Jindal approach didn’t include Bobby Jindal. Unpopularity in his home state, coupled with the rise of a new star in the form of Ted Cruz, left him in the dust, struggling to find a national constituency among Republicans. And whereas once he criticized the stupid, now—desperate for political attention—he has surrendered to his power. Which is how you get his recent rhetoric at the National Governor’s Association meeting in Washington:
“The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that, I think America can do better than that,” said the potential 2016 presidential candidate, suggesting that the president approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, rein in regulations and expand drilling on federal lands to boost economic growth.
And after a response from Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy, Jindal declared that—if the president really wanted to improve the economy—he would delay the Affordable Care Act.
Now, believe what you will about the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling, and Obamacare. The facts of the matter are that job gains from constructing the pipeline and commencing new drilling are small (and come at huge environmental cost), and there’s no real evidence that the Affordable Care Act is hindering the economy. At most, it may shrink the supply of labor, as people leave work to retire early, raise kids, or pursue other non-wage interests.
In other words, Jindal has given up on his aura of intellectualism, and has committed completely to standing up for the stupid. And, given his clear presidential ambitions, we should expect more of this. Already, in addition to pushing nonsense ideas about the economy, he’s pushing nonsense ideas about so-called “religious freedom.” Here he is, two weeks ago, defending Duck Dynasty and attacking liberals for their “war on religion”:
This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.
After four years of failed debuts on the national stage, Jindal hopes that this “war” against “elites” will give his political career meaning. And this might play well with conservatives who have a persecution complex. For everyone else—including most American believers—it falls flat.
Which is to say, if “Jindal 2016” were a race horse, I wouldn’t just hedge my bets—I’d buy shares in the glue factory.