The case against Bobby Jindal for vice president
On Wednesday, we made the case for why Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal should be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick. Today we argue the opposite.
One warning: we are agnostic about Jindal’s relative merits as a VP pick. Rather these dueling posts are aimed at exploring the good and the bad — as explained to us by those in the know — of selecting him. With that caveat out of the way, here’s our case against Jindal.
* The “Kenneth the Page” problem: Ask most people with a passing interest in politics what they know about Jindal and they are likely to say “Kenneth the Page” — as in the overly earnest character played by Jack McBrayer on NBC’s “30 Rock”
That caraicature developed in the wake of Jindal’s much-panned 2009 Republican response to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress. Jindal came off as hokey (at best) and immediately became the butt of Democratic jokes. (The send-up of Jindal’s speech by Jon Stewart was particularly savage.) Even Republicans favorably inclined to Jindal admitted it wasn’t his best moment.
While one speech does not a political career make (or break), Jindal’s speech clearly curtailed the positive chatter surrounding the Louisiana governor as a potential national candidate. And, if you are Mitt Romney, can you watch Jindal’s 2009 speech and not feel a little bit of trepidation about how he might perform under the hot glow of the national spotlight? We say not.
* How loyal? How ambitious?: During the 2012 Republican presidential primary race, Jindal was an enthusiastic and high profile endorser of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.
Talk to those in Romneyworld and they will insist that their candidate isn’t a grudge-holder and that the fact that Jindal endorsed his main rival (at the time) for the nomination doesn’t factor into his veep-picking at all.
But, shouldn’t it? After all, one of the most critical factors in a successful VP pick is a relationship with and loyalty to the nominee. Romney has to know that whoever he picks for his vice president will subjugate their own personal feelings and interests for the good of the ticket.
Jindal could be a question mark on that front. Not only did he endorse Perry in the primaries but he is someone who quite clearly has considerable national ambitions of his own. Recent VP picks that had a limited relationship with the nominee and a healthy dose of personal ambition haven’t succeeded; Sarah Palin for John McCain in 2008 is the ur-example but John Edwards for John Kerry in 2004 also fits that bill.
Some time this fall hard times will befall the Republican ticket. Romney has to pick someone who he knows will stay loyal no matter how bad things look at any given moment. Is Jindal that guy?
* Mile wide, inch deep record: For years, Democrats have been insisting that everything Jindal has done — from ethics to education — in the state has been aimed at being able to quickly take credit and leverage that credit to build his national profile.
They point to negative press surrounding the implementation of Jindal’s education policies , questions about how Jindal will close the state’s Medicaid budget gap and even take issue with Jindal’s proposed policy prescriptions in the wake of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon mine in 2010 — an event for which Jindal has drawn almost universally positive press.
For all of their talk, however, Democrats were never able to even find a credible candidate to prosecute these issues in 2011 as Jindal cruised to re-election.
But, while the Louisiana Democratic Party might not have been able to highlight the darker side of Jindal’s policy record, you can be sure that President Obama’s reelection campaign won’t have that same problem.
Running as a Republican in GOP-friendly Louisiana is one thing. Running for national office is another. Would Jindal’s allegedly sterling policy record withstand a deep dig by the Obama opposition research team?
* Too many known unknowns?: Jindal’s rise in Louisiana and national politics has been as fast as anyone this side of Barack Obama. The downside of such a rapid rise is that the extended vetting process that most candidates undergo to get to such a high elevation in national politics hasn’t been conducted as thoroughly on Jindal.
There’s the fact that Jindal, born Piyush, decided at a young age to change his name — taking inspiration from “Bobby” of the “Brady Bunch”. Or his conversion from Hinduism to Catholicism. Or his participation in what some have described as an exorcism during his college years.
If you like Jindal, all of these stories are an endearing testament to someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to live the American Dream. (Except, we guess, the alleged exorcism.) But in the hands of an opposing campaign, they could be used to cast Jindal as some combination of relentless climber/religious zealot that would not be nearly as appealing to swing voters.