The Washington Post

Jindal vs. O’Malley on ‘crisis of confidence’ offers 2016 hints

MILWAUKEE -- Does America have a "crisis of confidence?" Depends on who you ask.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) thinks the answer is yes.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). (Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

“As a country, we’re going through this crisis of confidence. And great republics sometimes go through these periods," O'Malley told reporters over the weekend at the National Governors Association meeting in Milwaukee, where he offered his most definitive remarks yet about his effort to gear up for a potential 2016 White House run.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has a different view.

"Look, maybe our political elites, maybe our liberal governors are going through a crisis of confidence. I think the American people know that our best days are ahead of us," Jindal said Sunday.

(Danny Johnston/AP) Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). (Danny Johnston/AP)

He then launched into a minutes-long assault on the Obama administration, before concluding, "No, I don't think that we are in a crisis of confidence in this country. I think there is a crisis of confidence in some of our elected leaders."

And there you have it. Jindal and O'Malley are on the short list of pols who could realistically compete for the presidency in 2016. And part of running for president is pitching yourself as a solution to some problem. That's exactly what the two have begun doing.

As Jindal sees it, the problem is a federal government that has grown far too large and an Obama administration that has gone about its business all wrong, ushering in policies that are bad for the country. We can reasonably expect the entire 2016 Republican field to adopt some version of this argument.

O'Malley, on the other hand, is pointing to what he sees as a larger climate of "confusion" and "polarization," in his words. While he blamed "obstructionist" House Republicans for keeping job growth from reaching its full potential and credited President Obama for "pulling us back from the brink," O'Malley seems to be pointing to a worrisome larger political and economic atmosphere as the real cause for concern.

Compared to Jindal's argument relative to other Republicans, it's less clear how  O'Malley's posture would be adopted by other Democratic contenders. If there is a competitive Democratic primary -- which doesn't look realistic if Hillary Clinton runs -- we could see Vice President Biden, for example, pitch himself as the person best equipped to continue all that Obama started. That would look like a different campaign than the one O'Malley is hinting at.

In a sense, every White House contender in the incumbent-less 2016 campaign will have to identify a "crisis of confidence" -- Jimmy Carter made the term famous -- in something, be it as narrow as a set of policies or as broad as the larger political/economic/social climate. And already, both Jindal and O'Malley have begun doing just that.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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