THE PLANK OCTOBER 28, 2008
With the Republicans’ presidential hopes for 2008 now all but dashed, a few upstarts in the party are—surprise—positioning themselves for future runs. Last week, Chris Cillizza flagged the appearance of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in a television spot for John Kennedy, the Republican challenger to Senator Mary Landrieu. Amid a backdrop of stately white columns, the young Indian-American governor projects a cool image of steadiness and calm. Sound like anyone you know? Jindal--who has already been dubbed "the Republican Obama" by numerous pundits and bloggers--seems to drive the point home by describing his party’s candidate as bringing "the change we need":
Jindal, in fact, offered early praise for Obama during primary season. "He just has an enthusiasm and genuineness about him that makes you want to like the guy," Jindal told a Times-Picayune columnist. The writer goes on to argue that Jindal not only admired Obama, but also sought to "emulate Obama’s ability to reach across ideological lines." In his own post, Cillizza goes so far to describe Jindal’s career as "marked almost entirely by a desire to avoid the appearance of partisanship," concluding that he was taking a definite risk in endorsing Kennedy.
It’s true that Jindal has tried to come across as an above-the-fray reformer, launching high-profile battles against corruption from the beginning of his career. But Jindal has hardly been an outsider to the GOP or the ideological principles at the heart of its base--his close ties to both the top Republican leadership and the party’s socially conservative wing have been critical to his success. He has never made a secret of his unwavering social conservatism, which helped win critical rural votes that propelled him into the governorship. In the TV spot for Kennedy, Jindal tries to portray him as a reformer like himself, but he doesn't hesitate to play up their ideological affinity. His first word of praise for the candidate? "He's a conservative."
Next month, Jindal will make an appearance at a fundraising dinner for the right-wing Iowa Family Policy Center--a visit to a state that seems to be a clear indication of his presidential aspirations. Among the Jindal cheerleaders quoted on the flyer for the Christian group’s event are Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, and Newt Gingrich. It's the first of many small moves that Jindal will have to make to placate the party's base. The question is whether he'll be able to maintain his image as an independent, post-partisan reformer along the way. McCain certainly failed to pull it off this year. But Jindal is an expert gamesman and might find a savvier way to reignite his party’s loyalists--without scaring of moderates--by, let's say, 2012.