I’m a big fan of a bunch of Republican officeholders, and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is at or near the top. (If you’re wondering why, read my examination of Jindal’s first term and the rebirth of Louisiana in the years since Hurricane Katrina, here.)
Over at Time.com, Alex Altman takes a look at the reasons in favor of and in opposition to Jindal as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
The reasons in Jindal’s favor probably don’t need rehashing here. As I said, I’m hardly objective about Jindal, but the criticisms mentioned strike me as pretty inane.
From a political standpoint, the pick doesn’t make much sense. Louisiana is a lock to go in Romney’s column.
. . . as Delaware was safe in the Obama column, Alaska safe in the McCain column, Wyoming safe in the Bush column, and Connecticut safe in the Gore column. John Edwards failed to help John Kerry in North Carolina. Jack Kemp did not help Bob Dole in California (where he was raised) or New York (which he represented in Congress). There is little or no evidence that geography is much of a factor in running mate selections anymore.
If you’re not tapping a No. 2 who can help you pick up a swing state, you want him or her to provide an entree into a demographic group. The selection of Jindal, an Indian-American, would avoid the questionable optics of an all-white-guy ticket in a rapidly changing nation; to some it might signal an effort on the part of the GOP to expand its demographics. But Jindal is a staunch conservative with little obvious appeal to swing voters.
Let me say this again: LAST YEAR NO MAJOR DEMOCRAT RAN AGAINST JINDAL FOR REELECTION. The Louisiana Democratic party effectively conceded the race, with no lawmaker even willing to run just to build up name recognition. (Jindal’s best-known opponent was a schoolteacher.) He has enormous appeal to swing voters, particularly once they get a good look at the condition Louisiana was in when he took office and how the state is doing now.
Regarding demographics, I think it is a mistake to presume that large numbers of voters will automatically vote for a ticket that has a member of their ethnic group. But it is worth noting that there are about 3 million Indian-Americans in the United States, and unsurprisingly, many live in swing states. According to the 2010 census figures, about 90,000 live in the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington area, about 127,000 in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria area, about 55,000 in the Detroit-Warren area; about 41,000 in the Miami–Fort Lauderdale area, 26,000 in the Orlando area, 23,000 in the Tampa–St. Petersburg area, and 20,000 in the Raleigh, North Carolina area.
From a vetting perspective, Jindal has obvious downsides. Among them are an element of his background sure to dominate cable chatter if he were selected. In December 1994, Jindal wrote an article in the New Oxford Review (teaser here; subscription required for full version) that details his presence at the dorm-room exorcism of a female friend. Without casting any aspersions on Jindal’s beliefs, it’s safe to say that Romney — who has dealt with an undercurrent of bigotry toward his own faith — likely wants to avoid a protracted discussion of religious practices that would overshadow his focus on the economy.
I cannot scoff loud enough at any fan of Jeremiah Wright’s prize protégé who tries to make someone else’s religious beliefs an issue.
Jindal’s record as governor would also come under critical scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal wrote in a glowing profile this week, Jindal “has won plaudits for his smooth handling of crises such as 2008′s Hurricane Gustav and the 2010 Gulf Oil spill.” As I wrote at the time, Jindal became a hero for his aggressive attacks on the federal government’s response to the spill. But his policy prescriptions were questionable. Jindal pushed hard for the government to construct a pricey barrier of sand berms to protect the state’s marshland from oil, and the project was ultimately OKed over the objections of scientists. An investigative commission subsequently found that the project was a $220 million boondoggle that captured little oil.
In Louisiana, the locals are huge fans of that effort, even if it was less successful than hoped, because it represented decisive action during a worsening crisis, while President Obama and most of the federal officials involved kept taking BP’s assurances that their next effort to cap the well was definitely going to work. People will forgive unsuccessful actions a lot faster than they will forgive dithering.
In a way, it’s not surprising that Jindal’s view broke with the scientific community; as governor, he signed a bill that provides for the teaching of creationism in public schools.
Finally, there’s the comfort factor. At the start of the primary, Jindal was an outspoken supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Nothing personal against Romney, just a personal appreciation of Perry, as Jindal explained at the time:
In the summer of 2008, Hurricane Gustav formed in the Gulf of Mexico and appeared dead-set for New Orleans, threatening to reprise or even exceed the worst devastation of Katrina. “We’ve never had to evacuate the entire state,” Jindal recalls, noting that Gustav’s path appeared to aim straight for the center of Louisiana (Katrina hit its southeastern region the hardest). “We had to evacuate 1.8 million people, the largest evacuation in American history, including 11,000 medical cases.” Jindal canceled his appearance at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minn. — ultimately, the convention’s entire first night was canceled — and remained in Baton Rouge, ensuring that the state’s response adapted to the inevitable hitches and surprises. When FEMA assets were unavailable to get hospital patients out of the state, Jindal called Texas governor Rick Perry, who promised that every Texas Air National Guard asset would be there in the morning, before the airspace was scheduled to be shut down in the face of the advancing hurricane.
“On faith, we loaded up those ambulances,” Jindal said. “We had to believe. We get to the airport and you’ve got these ambulances there, and if the planes don’t come, there aren’t a whole lot of options to get those people out on time. The most beautiful sights I saw were those planes. We ended up getting planes from Canada and everywhere else, but the first planes that got here were the Texas planes.”
He didn’t endorse Romney until April, long after Perry left the race. Unlike Pawlenty, who has been a dogged surrogate for Romney, Jindal is not said to have a strong rapport with the former Massachusetts governor. While Romney has regularly invited rumored veep candidates (such as Portman) to campaign with him over the past few months, his meeting with Jindal on Monday was the pair’s first joint meeting of this phase.
If the two personalities don’t mesh, they don’t mesh, and Jindal’s people seemed pretty adamant last fall that their boss would rather enact a bold second-term agenda than attend foreign funerals. But perhaps the decision will look different with the offer actual instead of theoretical.
I’ve also heard scoffing that Jindal A) is too short, B) talks funny, and C) needs to be more “all-American.” I just sigh.
Of course, in a Jindal-Biden debate, every Democrat would be hoping, desperately, that the words “7-11″ do not come from the Vice President’s mouth.