When you're running for president, you have to do a lot of things you'd rather not do. Tops on that list if you're Bobby Jindal is talking to the press, something he's been loath to do during his seven-plus years as Louisiana's governor. Because Jindal is officially contemplating a run for president next year (in truth, he can't wait to run), he met a room of skeptical reporters at a Washington, D.C., breakfast last week to start rolling out his policy bona fides. By all accounts, it did not go well.
The Jindal who met the press last week was actually the latest iteration of our governor, who in recent weeks has reverted to his old policy wonk shtick. Among other things, he talked at length about education, bolstered by a new report from his nonprofit policy group America Next. It was a change from two of Jindal's recent incarnations: the foreign policy upstart decrying "no-go zones" in Europe and offering his thoughts on Cuba; and "Bubba" Jindal, pal to the Duck Dynasty Robertson clan, tweeting photos of himself shooting a gun; sending Christmas cards featuring him in full camouflage; and wearing an oversized cowboy belt buckle at a prayer rally. Clearly, Jindal is a political chameleon who will say or do anything to blend in with whatever constituency he's wooing.
But even the ever-calculating Jindal couldn't foresee the disastrous run-up to his D.C. media breakfast. In the wake of his trip to Europe — and his "no-go zones" debacle — several profiles of Jindal appeared in the national press. All were highly critical.
Even the ever-calculating Jindal couldn't foresee the disastrous run-up to his D.C. media breakfast.
Jindal's staffers could easily dismiss The New York Times' piece as just another example of "leftist bias," but not so a story in The American Conservative titled, "How Bobby Jindal Wrecked Louisiana." The latter was written by Rod Dreher, a Louisiana native and prolific political writer who once supported Jindal. "I keep telling my friends in the national media that if you think Bobby Jindal has a chance in hell of becoming president," Dreher wrote, "send a reporter down to spend a few days in Louisiana, seeing what condition he's leaving his state in." Most of what Dreher reported (fiscal disasters in higher education and health care) wasn't news to Louisianans, but it was an eye-opener to the national conservative audience Jindal is courting. It certainly couldn't be written off as a leftist screed.
Then there was Tyler Bridges' profile of Jindal in Politico, which noted Jindal's two Achilles heels. First, he inherited a nearly $1 billion surplus from his predecessor, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and turned it into a $1.6 billion (and growing) deficit. Second, Louisiana's unemployment numbers have nearly doubled under Jindal, in contrast to the national trend under President Barack Obama, whose leadership he enjoys criticizing.
All this was a prelude to Jindal's press breakfast, which was not exactly a PR triumph. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank began his report by saying, "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took his presidential campaign-in-waiting to Washington on Monday trailed by an unwelcome, unsavory and downright unpleasant companion: his record." That record, of course, was the one thing Jindal didn't want to discuss with the national press. He mostly talked about his "new" education plan, which was a rehash of cliches that Louisianans had heard before: "parent choice" (diverting taxpayer funds to private schools); bashing Common Core (which Jindal once championed); and busting teachers' unions (which he calls "setting teachers free"). According to Milbank, the first question came from The Christian Science Monitor, which hosted Jindal: "Is there some irony in your talking about ramping up education while you're cutting it in Louisiana?"
Even the normally welcoming Morning Joe program on MSNBC proved a minefield. Host Joe Scarborough zeroed in on Jindal's Common Core flip-flop ("How did that happen?") and asked specifically about LSU's potential 90 percent tuition hike in the face of Louisiana's budget crisis. Jindal dodged the question, saying LSU has "one of the lowest tuition rates in the entire country." When asked how much it costs to attend LSU, the governor said it cost "less than $10,000" a year for tuition, books, meals and housing. It actually costs more like $20,000.
No wonder Louisiana's public universities are starving, and no wonder Jindal avoids the press. He's clearly unprepared to handle either challenge — the presidency all the more so.