Bobby Jindal’s delayed debut

August 27, 2012

He's regarded as one of the brightest emerging stars in the GOP. But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's moment on the national stage is going to have to wait. Again.


(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Jindal, who had been tapped to speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, is skipping the gathering to stay in Louisiana as his state braces for Tropical Storm Issac, which is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Jindal might be feeling a touch of deja vu today. Four years ago, he missed an opportunity to speak at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota, due to another storm that hit his home state, Hurricane Gustav.

Tough-timing for Jindal? Perhaps. But in the long term, his political profile may actually be the better for it.

Jindal's best-known moment in the national spotlight is his 2009 response to President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. What began as a golden opportunity to introduce himself to the country ended badly. His address was widely panned and he was written off as a politician not yet ready for prime time.

While the speech was a momentary setback, Jindal's career back home didn't suffer because of it. He was reelected in a landslide in 2011, winning two out of every three votes. He burnished a reputation in GOP circles as a strong reformer of education and ethics. And he did it all by the age of 40.

National Republicans have long taken notice. Jindal's resume, youth and status as the first Indian-American elected governor have caught the eyes of GOP power brokers who have sought to include him in national events.

In 2008, a Jindal convention speech might have permeated the national consciousness. But it wasn't to be, as the governor stayed in Louisiana to deal with Gustav. He received high marks for his response, which was particularly resonant in the region given the criticism George W. Bush's administration received for its response to Hurricane Katrina three years earlier.

As Issac approaches Louisiana this week, it may receive national media coverage that is on par with -- or even surpasses -- the Tampa convention. If Jindal manages the state's response to the storm effectively, his stock as an executive is likely to rise in the long term.

While Republicans in Tampa grapple with the tough decisions about what degree of politicking is appropriate, given the danger posed by the storm to the Gulf Coast region, Jindal will be far away from politics as he deals with the safety of his state's residents.

If he had appeared in Tampa, Jindal, who is at ease discussing policy, could have delivered an authoritative, reform-oriented speech that could have polished his image before a wide audience and boosted his standing in the GOP.

Back home, though, he is attending to an issue that transcends party lines. And if he has designs on higher office in the future, he will be well-equipped to point to accomplishments that both Democrats and Republicans could applaud.

It may not the exactly how Jindal drew up a comeback after he was embarrassed in 2009 by an address that left many wondering why he was tapped to speak in the first place. But Jindal is still young and popular in GOP circles. That combination means he will get his chance to speak to a wider audience at some point. Just, not now.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake | August 27, 2012