The Definitive H&H Bobby Jindal Scouting Report
What he’s got: Extensive public-service résumé that includes executive, legislative, administrative, and policy-making experience (as governor of and congressman from Louisiana, secretary of the state’s health-care and hospital system, and assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services); expertise beyond health care and across the spectrum of domestic policy; gold-plated academic credentials from Brown and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, reflecting arguably the biggest brain among the GOP 2016ers; deeply held Christian faith and unwavering adherence to social-conservative principles; folksy, plainspoken, cut-to-the-chase demeanor; when he hits it, a great stump speech; a winning family immigrant story.
What he lacks: National name recognition; national-security credentials; demonstrated national fundraising capacity; national or early-state polling strength; strong, or even passable, approval ratings in Louisiana (in recent surveys, they’ve ranged from 27 to 32 percent); an unambiguous record of accomplishment in his state; ability to temper tendencies towards incendiary rhetoric and tendentious claims; consistent willingness to allow his appealing wonkiness to show through; consistent sunny demeanor, inspirational tone, or uplifting substance on the hustings; a clear and plausible path to the nomination.
Biggest question mark: Can he find a signature issue, resonant theme, or breakout moment that would let him achieve escape velocity from the third tier of GOP hopefuls?
Message: To win the war of ideas, and the White House, conservatives must go on offense.
Signature issues: Health care; school choice; ethics reform; privatization; religious liberty; opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and gun control.
Core constituencies: Christian conservatives; Southern and rural voters.
Fundraising mojo: On the plus side, national donor connections from stints as chairman and vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, as well as a respectable fundraising team in place at his Believe Again super-PAC and in waiting for his campaign; on the minus side, relatively meager home-state contributor base, little oomph among mega-bundlers on Wall Street or in the Fortune 500, and no hints so far of dramatic small-donor or online prowess.
Spouse and family: Wife Supriya, the only statehouse first lady in the country with an engineering degree, runs the Jindal Foundation and is a vocal advocate for science education and technology in the classroom; three super-cute children, aged 8, 11, and 13—the youngest of whom was born in the bedroom of their family home, with dad performing the delivery while receiving coaching by phone from a nurse.
Perceived electability as Republican nominee: All the disadvantages of a home-state base that is small, deep red, and not terribly supportive of him in any case; hard-right stances on issues; and minimal outreach or appeal to the center makes it difficult to imagine him stealing any electoral votes claimed by President Barack Obama in 2012—and conceivable he might not even hold on to all of those in Mitt Romney’s column.
National-security credentials: Has traveled widely, including swings through Asia in 2014 and Europe in January of this year, though the latter trip—on which he claimed that Muslim immigrants had created “no-go” zones in Europe—engendered more controversy and criticism than credibility; beyond such peregrinations, precious few conventional foreign policy bona fides.
Television skills: Still shadowed by his borderline-disastrous national TV debut in 2009, when his sing-songy State of the Union response earned him comparisons to Kenneth from 30 Rock; smart, assertive, and crisp in interview settings, rarely bowing to criticism or buckling under pressure, and unafraid to throw sharp elbows at his rivals; but comes across more as brittle and unyielding than charming or inviting. Works hard and often gets little sleep, which shows on the tube to bad effect.
Social media/online chops: Pitiable on Twitter (just 20.9k followers despite a cover photo with his family and the Duck Dynasty gang) and Instagram (only 2.3k despite some pretty adorable pictures of his children and plenty of him—and sometimes his kids—exercising their Second Amendment rights), more robust on Facebook (247k).
Media coverage: Demonized by the left, lionized by the right, dismissed by the center as a prodigy who has failed so far to convert his potential into a winning package; many reporters who know him are puzzled by the disparity between his increasingly fire-breathing public persona and more cerebral private mien.
Polling strength: Has never been above 5 percent nationally, in Iowa, or in New Hampshire; currently is stuck between 0 and 1 percent everywhere.
The Big Mo: Only mo has been in the wrong direction for the past year.
Fire in the belly: If plausibility were a function purely of desire, he would be closer to the top, but doesn’t give off the vibe that he gets up every morning determined to do 10 or more things to get himself to the Oval Office.
The hang test: Retail skills were a big part of what earned him the governorship at age 36 and then got him reelected; as a presidential hopeful, however, seems to strain to come across as more hard-edged than he is. Hasn’t put in enough time in the early voting states to test whether he will wear well there.
Challenges party orthodoxy: On relatively little, and in at least one notable case where he deviated—his early support of Common Core—he has since reversed his position.
Best moment of 2016 cycle so far: None to speak of.
Worst moment of 2016 cycle so far: When Jindal said in London that, in Europe, “non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves”—called “no-go zones”—“and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can,” a highly dubious claim for which he received an enormous and justifiable degree of grief.
Picture he doesn’t want us to see: The infamous painting of Jindal by a constituent and loaned to the governor’s office that pictured his skin as several shades lighter than he is. Some claimed and/or believed this was his official portrait, which was false—but the days-long hubbub that ensued was more than long enough.
Kendall Breitman contributed to this report.