Conservative writer Matt Lewis laments the end of the Bobby Jindal presidential campaign, noting his “decision to run away from his strengths as an experienced policy expert. He might have been issuing detailed policy papers, but—on the campaign trail and debate stage—his rhetoric leaned more toward lowbrow pandering than toward elevated conversation.” He concludes, “he decided to play dumb. It felt inauthentic.”
All true. But Jindal’s “lowbrow pandering” went beyond his presidential rhetoric. It infected his policy agenda as governor, leaving him without a record to run on and without any popular support in his own state.
It didn’t have to be this way. Jindal set himself on an early path to technocratic success. The Brown University graduate was named Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at 24, and impressed the Republican elites enough to be appointed Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services two years later.
He ran for governor promising technocratic efficiency. He lost in his first bid but won his second going away.
Yet as governor, he didn’t deliver efficient government. Instead of trying to impress his own constituents, he tried to impress conservative movement activists.
He responded in his second term by doubling down on purist conservative ideology, and proposing the elimination of the state income tax, but legislators rebelled and he folded. This year he proposed the largest education cuts by any state in history, which unsurprisingly, also went nowhere. By June, he had little choice but to accept a budget from the legislature that balanced the budget with increased tax revenue.
Along the way, in the immediate aftermath of Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat, Jindal had the gall to tell Republicans to “stop being the stupid party.” It was advice he doled out but did not practice.
Which is a shame. Jindal could have been the face of a modern Republican Party: racially diverse, factually based, mathematically literate, governmentally competent. Instead, he’s just another face of a “stupid party” that refuses to abandon policies despite their repeated failures.