The man on the left is gone. Next?

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republicans Are Closing In on a 2016 Nominee

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Back in 2009, Bobby Jindal was an impressive young Republican governor with loads of potential. He gave the Republican response that year to Barack Obama’s economic recovery speech.

After that, nearly everything went wrong.

OK, I exaggerate slightly. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in Louisiana in 2011. But he’s terribly unpopular there now, and he never picked up any traction in his bid for his party's 2016 presidential nomination -- a campaign he ended on Tuesday

Debate performances aren’t everything when it comes to choosing a party's nominee. But Jindal’s flat showing in the "undercard" events were missed opportunities, especially the times when he only had to face has-been moderate George Pataki, non-factor Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, who may be a serious candidate but has awful debating skills.

Jindal’s departure means we have more evidence that winnowing works: Candidates with little realistic chance of winning the nomination do quit. Jindal’s mighty 3 percent of the vote in Iowa polls may not make much of a difference to anyone. But it means there will be fewer candidates on the debate stage, fewer who will be winning votes, and a smaller number who could potentially catch fire who haven't. And place-order affects media coverage, so even 3 percentage points can make a difference.

It’s worth noting that serious candidates tend to drop out earliest: Scott Walker, Rick Perry and now Jindal are all gone, while George Pataki and Jim Gilmore remain technically still in the contest, as are some other candidates with little chance to win. 

Walker, Perry and Jindal showed at least some interest in building a partywide coalition. Almost all the remaining candidates, including perhaps Jeb Bush, are instead now trying to win the nomination by mobilizing a faction. The remaining coalition-style candidate is Marco Rubio, and Harry Enten speculates that the demise of Jindal, Walker and Perry might be bad news for the Florida senator. I think this is probably wrong. The more likely explanation is that Rubio has defeated the others. Or they just turned out to be weak candidates; coalition-building takes skills they may not have had.

This doesn’t mean Rubio has anything locked up, even if the process ultimately favors coalition-style candidates. True, it's unlikely that mobilization based on pure factionalism can work, and even more unlikely that a candidate can go around the Republican party entirely. But it's possible that one of Rubio's rivals will start with a smaller faction, then expand to win the support of others within the party.

We’re down from more than 20 Republicans doing the kinds of things presidential candidates do to only 11 or 12 major candidates.  And we're within 11 weeks of the Iowa caucuses. We aren't far from having a Republican nominee now. Goodbye, Bobby Jindal.

  1. For those who missed it on Twitter: I predicted Jindal would win the first two debates. He did not.

  2. John McCain may have done that in 2008 when he started out by courting moderates, then expanded his appeal to win partywide support. Perhaps this time John Kasich, Mike Huckabee or one of the others can expand his or her range, although none of them has shown much interest in doing so to this point.

  3. Falling below 1 percent in the polls, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore have been shut out of the debates and ignored by the press; Lindsey Graham is just barely still in major-candidate territory. Remember: Lots of candidates run besides the ones who are treated as major candidates. Consider Mark Everson. Who? A former commissioner of the IRS who recently dropped out of the presidential contest, he never counted as a “real” candidate. And it isn't clear Pataki, Gilmore and even Graham do at this point.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net