WASHINGTON, January 27, 2015 – On Saturday, while Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and other GOP presidential hopefuls were in Iowa, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was in Baton Rouge praying for a miracle.
Over 1,200 conservative Republicans were gathered in Des Moines for the Iowa Freedom Summit. Over a period of nine hours, they heard 20-minute speeches from serious presidential contenders like Cruz, Christie and Walker, from less likely prospects like Sara Palin, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump, and from a variety of elected Iowa officials.
Nothing was settled at the Summit and not all serious contenders were there – notably absent were Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney – but it was an opportunity for candidates to present themselves to Iowa voters and reporters, to define their reasons for running and to contrast themselves to the rest of the pack. It was the first step on a path that will lead through all 99 Iowa counties before the Iowa caucuses a year from now.
Bobby Jindal had a prior commitment. He was hosting The Response, a prayer revival organized by the American Family Association. It was, according to his aids, not a political event, but only a spiritual one.
But the politics were unavoidable. Five days after hosting The Response in Houston’s Reliant Stadium, Governor Rick Perry announced his 2012 run for the White House. Jindal invited his 49 fellow governors to attend, but none did. Jindal prayed for President Obama and the U.S. government, while other Louisiana politicians in attendance prayed for more born-again Christians to be elected to office. They prayed for an end to abortion, and some pastors, led by Bob Phillips, announced that they would defy IRS rules for tax-exempt organizations and engage in partisan political activity from the pulpit.
When Rick Perry hosted The Response, he had an audience of 35,000 for his speech. Jindal drew fewer than 3,000, and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center looked sadly deserted. Heeding his insistence that the event was spiritual, not political, many of those 3,000 agreed that Jindal should not use the event to launch a political campaign and weren’t really there for him.
If Jindal expected to spin political capital from the event, he must be disappointed. It elicited no outpouring of affection for Jindal, and it drew little attention from the political press. All eyes were on Iowa.
Days before The Response, Jindal traveled to Europe on a 10-day “fact-finding” mission, presumably in preparation for a White House run. He stopped in London on January 19 to visit Parliament and deliver a speech to the Henry Jackson Society in the House of Commons.
His speech came before he managed to find any facts. Jindal spoke about Muslim “no-go zones” in Europe, places where the police don’t go and Sharia law is the only law. According to Jindal,
“[I]n the West, non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can without regard for the laws of the democratic countries which provided them a new home.
“It is startling to think that any country would allow, even unofficially, for a so called ’no-go zone.’ The idea that a free country would allow for specific areas of its country to operate in an autonomous way that is not free and is in direct opposition to its laws is hard to fathom.”
Harder to fathom is that Jindal made his comments after Fox News found itself apologizing – profusely – for claiming the existence of those no-go zones, and for the bizarre claim by one of its terrorism experts, Steve Emerson, that Birmingham, England is in its entirety such a zone, a city inhabited only by Muslims.
That claim ricocheted around Fox with no one pausing to ask whether it was likely that Birmingham, England’s second largest city and with a population not much smaller than England’s total Muslim population, would be inhabited only by Muslims. Nor did it occur to them that, for all its many charms, British Muslims, like almost everyone else, prefer London to Birmingham.
Yet there was Jindal, repeating Fox’s big oops. When asked about it by CNN, he doubled down.
“I’ve heard from folks here [in London] that there are neighborhoods where women don’t feel comfortable going in without veils.
“That’s wrong. We all know that there are neighborhoods where police are less likely to go into.
“I think that the radical Left absolutely wants to pretend like this problem is not here. Pretending it’s not here won’t make it go away.”
If he was hoping to burnish his foreign policy credentials, Jindal badly miscalculated. British Prime Minister David Cameron, breaking with normal protocol, called Jindal “a complete idiot.”
British writers observed hopefully that Jindal might not be a complete idiot, since he was, after all, a Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford. Unlike the universities in Jindal’s Louisiana, which he has systematically stripped of funding in the belief that Louisiana doesn’t require a large, college-educated workforce, Oxford remains a quality institution.
Or so they plaintively hoped. That Jindal really learned nothing at Oxford or that Oxford would admit “a complete idiot” are possibilities too hard to stomach.
Bobby Jindal’s first big shot on the national stage was in January, 2009, when he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s first State of the Union speech. Jindal walked awkwardly into the room from the side, burbled “Happy Mardi Gras!” and proceeded to shrink before our very eyes. When his speech was mercifully over, commentators wondered whether he had done his political ambitions irreparable harm.
The answer to that is “no.” Had he governed Louisiana wisely and well, and had he moved on to listen and learn and become a serious man, he could have recovered from that speech. But at every turn, he makes himself smaller and more ridiculous. That begs the questions, why does anyone talk about him as a presidential contender, and why does he bother pretending that he is?
It is dangerous in politics to say “never,” but the word seems appropriate here: Bobby Jindal will never be President of the United States. He has done nothing to make himself a serious contender, but instead has, if we’re being kind, miscalculated all along the way. He is not the Indian Obama. If his politics are more palatable to the right, they must still realize that he doesn’t have Obama’s political talent, his vastly over-rated but still useful rhetorical skill, or his intellect.
Bobby Jindal is what the right wishes Obama were. Unfortunately for Jindal, he’s the real deal. The sooner his supporters get that through their heads, the sooner they can find a candidate who is not “a complete idiot.”