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He's not even the choice of the GOP's right wing.
OK, so Bobby Jindal doesn't look like Ronald Reagan or run like George W. Bush, and he's from a state most Americans consider a quirky outpost. He at least is the darling of the Religious Right and the tea party, right?
Jindal trails every other potential candidate that is courting the GOP's ideologically conservative base. U.S. Sens. Rubio, Cruz and Paul, along with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Rep. Ryan and Texas Gov. Rick Perry all finished ahead of Jindal in the 2014 CPAC straw poll. Jindal got just 2 percent of the CPAC vote after speaking to the group for 15 uninspiring minutes. That makes him a long shot even for vice president.
Admittedly, the CPAC poll hasn't been a bellwether for future nominees. How about the Iowa caucuses, then? In that crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, Jindal didn't even register a blip on the radar screen in an April poll of likely GOP voters, despite his forays to the Hawkeye State in recent years. In that poll, three potential candidates formed a top tier: Huckabee with 20 percent; Ryan with 19 percent; and Jeb Bush with 18 percent. The second tier consisted of Rubio and Cruz at 9 percent, Paul at 8 percent, Christie at 7 percent and Walker at 6 percent. Trailing the pack was TV host Joe Scarborough at 4 percent, which puts Jindal somewhere at the bottom of (or just below) the third tier.
Moreover, all of Jindal's potential rivals for the GOP nomination not only have national audiences and national followings — both of which he lacks — but they also have more gravitas than he. Rubio, Cruz, Ryan and Paul are sought out by the media because each has expertise on specific national issues. Perry has a stronger record as governor, and Huckabee is the leading choice among conservative Christians. While Team Jindal paints our governor as a policy wonk, his rivals run circles around him when it comes to actually writing and implementing national policies. He talks the talk; they walk the walk.
Equally important, when the eventual nominee picks a running mate, any one of those rivals would bring a lot more to the ticket than Jindal. Rubio and Cruz come from states with lots of electoral votes, and both appeal to Hispanics — a demographic identified by virtually every GOP consultant as critical to the party's future. Paul has inherited his father's appeal to young people and broadened his own appeal as a pragmatist on major issues.
And if a candidate from the party's right wing should happen to win the nomination in 2016, you can bet he won't look to a less impressive knockoff when it's time to pick a future veep. The bottom line for Jindal: The base from which he hopes to run for president already belongs to several others, and he has little chance of pushing any of them aside.
There has been no "Louis- Iana Miracle."
We began this countdown with Louisiana and we'll end it there, because his record as governor is what Bobby Jindal must carry into the primaries. He knows that any candidate for president has to have a narrative. Jindal's narrative will be — and try not to laugh as you read this — that he is the architect and builder of The Louisiana Miracle.
He's already spinning that tale, and it's alarming how many folks in the national media are buying it. Let's face it, many in the media are either too lazy or too politically biased to fact-check political spin. Jindal knows this, which is why he picks his media audiences carefully — and almost never subjects himself to unscripted press conferences open to all Louisiana media.
If the national media ever look closely at Jindal's record, particularly his claim that he has turned around Louisiana's fortunes, his narrative won't hold up.
For example, Louisiana still depends heavily on the federal government. Jindal runs against Washington and advocates smaller government, yet he consistently proposes state budgets of more than 40 percent federal funds. According to veteran state government watchdog and blogger C.B. Forgotston, who once served on the staff of the state House Appropriations Committee, that 40 percent figure has been the norm for decades. For all his talk about "getting our fiscal house in order," Jindal hasn't made a dent in Louisiana's dependency on federal largesse.
Moreover, Louisiana still ranks near the bottom of most of "the good lists" and at or near the top of "the bad lists." This is particularly true of quality-of-life indices. Jindal loves to claim economic development victories, but those wins haven't trickled down. In 2007, the year before Jindal took office as governor, Louisiana ranked 30th in per capita income. In 2012, the latest year for which U.S. Department of Commerce figures are available, we ranked 29th.
Then there are the quality-of-life metrics. Louisiana ranks 50th among the states in overall health, and we have some of the nation's worst health care stats: the highest infant mortality rate; the highest diabetes-related death rate; the highest rate of death from breast cancer and third-highest rate of cancer deaths overall; the sixth-highest rate of children born to teenage mothers; the eighth-highest rate of teen pregnancies; and the second-highest rate of low- and very low-birth weight babies.
Considering that Bobby Jindal got his political start as a public health care guru — he led the state's Department of Health and Hospitals at age 24 — he'll have a tough time explaining Louisiana's Third World health care outcomes after his eight years as governor. No doubt he'll trumpet the fact that he slashed the state's health budget (in truth, the feds slashed it by rewriting the Medicaid reimbursement formula on his watch) and dogmatically refused to accept the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, but the fiscal sheen of his policy decisions pales in comparison to their human toll.
Jindal also touts his bona fides as an education reformer, but the truth is Louisiana's boldest education reforms came under his predecessor, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she implemented the state takeover of New Orleans' failing public schools and allowed the charter school movement to take hold. Jindal's education reforms, while highly promoted, largely fizzled. Most either were struck down by the courts or failed to produce results as promised. And on one of his earliest initiatives — Common Core — he flip-flopped.
Here's the truth about public education under Bobby Jindal: Louisiana has the nation's fourth-highest high school dropout rate (5.7 percent), and our high school graduation rate ranks 45th in the nation.
On other fronts, the story is the same: Jindal ranks as the nation's least transparent governor — a ranking that's sure to haunt him among the national media — and his "gold standard" of ethics reform is a joke. He neutered the state Ethics Commission and carved out major disclosure exceptions for the executive branch.
Jindal's biggest vulnerability, however, is his record on fiscal management. When he took office, the state had a surplus of at least $1 billion. Before he leaves office in 2016, Louisiana will have an annual budget hole of $2 billion or more — and that's after he cut state support for higher education by 80 percent and consistently used one-time money to pay for recurring expenses.
All in all, Jindal's only "miracle" is the fact that his voter disapproval ratings aren't higher. A little over a year ago, President Obama had better numbers in Louisiana than Jindal.
Now that's a miracle.
It will take an even bigger miracle for GOP voters ever to pick Bobby Jindal as their presidential nominee.