Chris Christie’s baggage boosts Bobby Jindal

    Welcome to Bobby Jindal Week! The oft-ignored governor of Louisiana has been popping up everywhere, trying to put himself on the ’16 presidential radar, trying to show Republicans that he too can mouth the requisite right-leaning applause lines.

    Frankly, if the guy has any manners, he should send flowers and a thank-you card to Chris Christie. Because Christie’s conspicuous absence has been Jindal’s opportunity.

    To truly appreciate how much the New Jersey scandals have damaged Christie’s presidential prospects and national profile, take a look at his most recent movements (or lack thereof). As the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he was expected to command the limelight this past weekend, when the GOP chief executives and their Democratic counterparts gathered for a confab in Washington. He was expected to strut his stuff, soak up all that national press attention…. 

    Never happened. Instead, he ducked a Saturday press conference, he was AWOL from the Sunday morning TV talk shows, he skipped the governors’ Monday meeting with President Obama, and thus he was nowhere in sight when the governors subsequently met the press corps. The official word was, he had to go back to Jersey for his daughter’s birthday, plus he had to bone up for a Tuesday budget speech.

    Translation: Amidst sinking national poll numbers, and a 20-point drop in New Jersey over the past year, he couldn’t afford to be the public face of the Republican governors. He couldn’t do the press briefing and risk being asked about the scandals back home. (Likely headline: “Christie stays mum about U.S. attorney probe”). He couldn’t do the Sunday TV shows and risk taking questions like this: “Governor, should Republican primary voters be concerned about reports that you politicized the police at the George Washington Bridge?”

    And what a great deal this has been for Bobby Jindal.

    As vice-chair of the RGA, he filled the Christie void at Saturday’s press conference, on the Sunday shows, at the Monday White House meeting, at the subsequent press conference, on yesterday’s Morning Joe show…go for it, Bobby.

    And he badly needed the boost. Everybody has been scenarioizing about Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, even Mitt Romney 3.0 – yet nary a word about him. The Quinnipiac pollsters just released a poll that shows how Hillary Clinton would fare today in Pennsylvania when matched against various Republicans – including Cruz and Rick Santorum. They didn’t bother with Jindal.

    What the heck happened to the guy? Four or five years ago, he was widely touted as a potential Republican wunderkind, a mold-breaker (born in Baton Rouge, parents from India) who could put the GOP back in the White House and perhaps erase the party’s well-earned aging white guy image. Then he delivered the ’09 State of the Union response, apparently in a stupor. To quote conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, “Jindal seemed to be having an out-of-body experience enhanced by special brownies.”

    Actually, his main baggage is back home in Louisiana. He is widely disliked. He tried to hike sales taxes, but people went nuts; he tried to slash spending for health care and education, but people went nuts. As he nears the end of his two-term tenure, his job approval rating sits at 35 percent, which is not ideal for someone who seeks to persuade Republican primary voters that he’s fit to lead a nation. Plus, he ticked off The Base early last year when he urged the GOP to become more inclusive and “stop being the stupid party.”

    But now Jindal is aiming to fix that, mostly by embracing the stupid. A few weeks ago, he did the requisite right-wing dance about how America’s “elites” are supposedly determined to oppress Christians, to turn us “into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.” This is classic stupid-party patter, this notion that “elites” are waging a “war on religion” in a nation where roughly 63 million people freely attend church on a weekly basis.

    And at the White House press briefing on Monday, Jindal doubled down by breaching protocol. Traditionally, after governors visit the White House in a bipartisan fashion, they subsequently refrain from making partisan remarks – but Jindal did so anyway, with a brief stump speech aimed at The Base. He said that Obama is “waving the white flag of surrender” on job growth. He said, “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that. America can do better than that,” by approving the Keystone pipeline, delaying the health care law, the usual stuff.

    I suppose it’s worth mentioning that the Keystone pipeline will create only a handful of jobs (42,000 to build it, boosting the GDP by 0.02 percent; and a grand total of 50 jobs thereafter), and that his Republican brethren in Congress have repeatedly obstructed bills to create millions of jobs, but whatever. The point here is that Jindal is making his big play. And here’s what he said this week about Christie: “The RGA is more important than just any one governor.”

    In politics, you don’t send flowers to a fallen rival. You just kick him while he’s down.

    ——-

    Meanwhile, last night, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer blessedly vetoed the extremist bill that would’ve allowed anti-gay bigots to deny business services to fellow Americans by wrapping themselves in the Bible. What’s amazing is that it took her so long to do it. Brewer said that even though “religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value – so is no discrimination.”

    Translation: “If we weren’t facing the prospect of losing the Super Bowl, getting boycotted by tourists, earning the enmity of fair-minded Americans, and becoming an international pariah, maybe I would’ve signed it.”

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

     

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