Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is running for president, and nobody seems to know why.
The man who was once called the Republican Party’s savior-in-waiting will formally announce his 2016 bid this afternoon, and Jindal will enter the race with slightly less than one percent of the GOP primary electorate in his corner, putting him dead last among large and growing slate of “serious” Republican contenders. He’s apparently planning to run as a tax-cutting fiscal conservative who will be tough on immigration and defend religious liberty – making him indistinguishable from pretty much every other candidate.
And then there’s the small matter of how Jindal’s policies have transformed Louisiana into a fiscal disaster and left him one of the least popular governors in America. He’s less popular in his own reliably Republican state than the Democratic president he hopes to replace. The guiding principle of Jindal’s economic policy has quite literally been to keep Grover Norquist happy – he made a promise to the anti-tax activist to never raise taxes in his state, and even as budget deficits ballooned owing to enthusiastic tax cuts and falling oil prices, Jindal refused to break his word. The state can’t really cut spending any more than it already has, and it’s running out of gimmicks to paper over the budget shortfalls. Even the Republicans in the state legislature have called Jindal’s approach to governing irresponsible and “insane.”
But it’s in the smoking wreckage of his broadly unpopular policy choices that Jindal’s people spy the rationale for his presidential run. Jindal’s chief strategist Curt Anderson talked to Bloomberg Politics about what the candidate’s answer will be when asked to explain why most everybody hates him:
By early this year, with the state facing a $1.6 billion budget hole, even Republican legislators were accusing him of spending too much time in Iowa testing the presidential waters and of using gimmicks to protect his tax-averse reputation.
Jindal current unpopularity is a sign of courage, according to Anderson.
“If people didn’t realize that cutting government is going to have some blowback, they’re naive,” he said. “That’s part of what he will be saying, that he’s been willing to do hard things.”
Courage! It’s an argument that has superficial appeal but falls apart the minute you actually start thinking it through. I’ll have the guts to slash taxes and reduce the government to the barest shred of its former self. It won’t be popular. In fact, you’ll probably hate me for it, but naïve discontent of that sort won’t… wait, hold on, let me start over. Jindal might be on firmer ground if the "hard things" he's done had actually produced some sort of benefit for his state. And he might be on to something if it were just the Democrats in his state that were complaining about his slash-and-burn economic policy, but, again, he’s not exactly winning any popularity contests within his own party.
And, per Anderson, Jindal 2016 will also declare all-out war on the insidious scourge of the straw men:
Anderson gave a preview of what Jindal would say in his speech. He will focus on protecting the nation's borders, repealing Obamacare, shrinking government growth and strengthening defense, Anderson said. Timmy Teepell, who ran Jindal's gubernatorial and congressional bids, will be his campaign manager, according to a news release.
Jindal “will be sort of a politically incorrect candidate, and he will challenge the idea that you can't really be a smart guy and a Christian,'' Anderson said.
Right here’s the part where I’m supposed to make reference to that time Jindal remonstrated the GOP for being “the stupid party” that seeks to win by treating voters like idiots. It’s hard to craft a more blatantly cynical appeal to conservative resentment than “don’t let anyone tell you you’re dumb just because you’re a Christian.” The irony here is that Jindal, who is a very intelligent and very religious person, has made it his business to undermine public education in his state in the name of religion. Jindal is one of a handful of Republican governors who’ve signed “academic freedom” legislation that allows science teachers to supplement their teaching of Darwinian evolution with materials on “intelligent design” and other forms of trussed-up Creationist nonsense.
So, according to Jindal's own people, he's running for president to be a courageous defender of the intelligent Christian. But that's not true. The real reason Jindal is embarking on this hopeless venture is that he’s fallen victim to the sunk-cost fallacy. He’s already invested so much into fulfilling the presidential destiny that was thrust upon him, and even though those efforts have left his state in penury and destroyed his chances of actually winning, he figures he’s come this far, so why stop now?