Bobby Jindal was never supposed to wind up here. In 2008, some people called him the GOP Obama. His minority status as an Indian American, his wonkiness — he graduated Brown at age 20, then became a Rhodes Scholar — evoked the kind of technocratic wunderkind bridge-building that Obama had sought to accomplish from the left.
And then it all went to hell.
So there he was, on Wednesday, semi-officially announcing his candidacy via creepy hidden camera footage of him telling his kids that he was running for president. Far from being folksy, it looked like the sort of footage the Tooth Fairy from Red Dragon uses to select his next victim. The Jindal family is witness to a great becoming. Unfortunately, that becoming is Bobby Jindal: Failed Presidential Candidate.
The knock on Jindal — the fact that you will see repeated until he slinks back to Baton Rouge and starts cold-calling conservative think tanks for the best seven-figure sinecure — is that he famously declared after Romney’s 2012 loss that the GOP needed to stop being “the stupid party,” and has been going balls-to-the-wall stupid ever since. And while that’s true, it overshadows the fact that Jindal’s always veered between weird and wrong, when he isn’t both.
There’s his conversion story. Raised a Hindu, Jindal initially explored Catholicism to get closer to a girl. Unlike the rest of us, who took up smoking or going to bad all-ages shows to have something in common with a crush, Jindal reordered his entire cosmology. Which, like, come on, man. Further, he famously participated in an exorcism in college, which puts him in good company with about .0001 percent of practicing Catholics in developed nations and definitely seems like the normal thing a smart person conversant in modern Catholicism would do.
One respect in which his faith has never wavered is the virtues of both the market and cutting government services. At age 24, Jindal inherited a huge debt as Louisiana’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals, restoring a surplus after closing clinics, reducing compensation to nurses and attempting to gut the Medically Needy Program and restrict Medicaid recipients to five prescriptions per month. Despite the rate of uninsured Louisianans (one of the nation’s highest) and despite his stints at Brown and Oxford, Jindal managed to walk away with the conclusion that it wasn’t a problem that America spends more as a percentage of GDP on health care than any other OECD nation and that we get 50 million uninsured for our troubles. Just a few more cuts, and a competitive marketplace no longer preying on mortally captive buyers would flower via the invisible thumbs-up of Jesus saying, “Let that happen.” Unsurprisingly, Jindal has declared his fierce opposition to Obamacare since day one, refusing to take the Medicaid expansion for his state. But at least those dead Louisianans never had to live in chains, man, and when they die they get to meet Ronald Reagan.
Then there’s the budget, with regard to which Jindal’s fiscal responsibility is as robust as every other GOP candidate. Jindal inherited over $800 million in budget surplus and immediately spent it while taking a machete to the tax code and creating $800 million in tax cuts, mistakenly thinking that the good times of recovery investment and post-Katrina federal money would last forever. (He railed against the Obama stimulus dollars, then took them as quietly as possible.) Jindal punted billions in tax subsidies to business, then spent nearly every year of his governorship rigging a “neutral” budget by raiding rainy day funds and savings accounts, selling public assets and treating one-time credits as annual revenues — then rearranging the smoke and mirrors again the next year. (It’s OK, only the universities were put on the chopping block.) Then he tried to abolish the corporate and income taxes. Facing a chasm in the budget of his own creation, Jindal cynically railed against “corporate welfare” while trying to use a possible rollback of his state’s corporate giveaways as blackmail to force out-of-state corporations like IBM to respect homophobic “conscience” exemptions he favored.
With respect to conscience, Jindal might have had one other big idea to his credit, if it weren’t for the fact that the state supreme court ruled it unconstitutional. Unfortunately, you can’t decimate the public school system by getting public monies to fund private schools, especially when they have no system for accountability, can discriminate against students for their or their families’ moral failings, and teach absolutely bugfuck facts like: man and dinosaurs were contemporaries, dragons might have existed, slavery and the KKK were usually good, the Great Depression is just liberal propaganda and gay people have no more rights than child molesters.
Between the above and his hostility to women’s reproductive rights, dedication to protecting his office from open-records laws and his wife’s charity pocketing millions in donations from corporations negotiating with the state, Jindal wasn’t going to get far in any general election anyway. But Bobby’s poor skills at conservative grandstanding walled off that prospect all on his own.
You probably remember his response to Obama’s 2009 address to a joint session of Congress, when the Democratic Obama and the Republican Obama were going to go head-to-head in a battle for hearts and minds. What you probably remember is that suddenly everyone in America realized Jindal looked like Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock. That’s in part because Jindal offered people little to engage with but standard GOP bromides of freedom values entrepreneurship tradition liberty competition. But what really sunk him was ditching his usually fast-paced delivery for a lilting, sing-songy speech delivered at the pace of molasses. Jindal simpered, and he can’t do simpering. A guy like Marco Rubio can stand at a podium and threaten to break down and cry at America for 30 minutes, overwhelmed by the beautiful truth of everything he has to say. Ted Cruz is like the United States Marine Corps of affected emotional pandering — Simper fidelis, motherfucker — mouth in a rictus of rueful recognition that only he can understand the tragedy that has befallen this beautiful country. But Jindal’s precious, interminable cadence fell flat. It was like listening to a Southern-tinged maple syrup ad written under the assumption that every viewer in America is developmentally disabled.
It’s been all downhill ever since for Jindal. He had a worse national debut than The Shockmaster, and as his momentum fizzled the country was left with only his policy to look at, watching him crater a state already dangerously below sea level. Every distraction has failed. He’s palled around with the Duck Dynasty guys, trying to claim “religious liberty” is under government attack because a private cable company told them to stop looking like assholes. He’s spent so much time handing around their “authentic” beard aesthetic that he looks like he’s touring with an Allman Brothers cover band. He went to England and tried to claim that Muslims had created “no-go” zones in England, which came as a surprise to English people, who live there. As the governor of Louisiana, he naturally co-signed the Senate’s absurd letter to the leaders of Iran. Now he hates corporate welfare. Sure, man, whatever.
But Jindal’s pre-announcement announcement of his presidential candidacy was a new low for a politician who’s spent the last seven years mining for them. Just look at this video. Meant to show him speaking intimately with his innocent, curious children about the most momentous thing he could ever tell them, it instead looks just as staged as it actually was. At least one of his kids plainly knows what he’s going to say already, and the rest seem bored. Their lack of emotion, and the planning that went into hiding a camera in a tree and gathering everyone within earshot and line of sight of it, undercuts all plausible anticipation and reveals the video for what it is — a cynical “family values” tableau of a very humble man humbly recording his humble announcement in his humble home.
Even the text of it is creepy. Beyond maybe making you think of the home videos in Red Dragon, there’s really only one other thing that a hidden camera and bad audio of a man talking to children makes anyone think of, and that’s Dateline: To Catch a Predator. There’s Bobby Jindal, telling his children that he wants to do something very special, but, “You can’t go tell your friends.” THIS IS OUR SECRET. DON’T LET ANYONE KNOW.
All of this might be funnier if Jindal stood any chance, and he doesn’t, meaning we’re all living through the amusing factoid portion of an early electoral hiccup. He has a 28 percent approval rating in his own home state, and would lose a potential race to Hillary Clinton on his own turf by 47-40. Meanwhile, Iowa is strongly conservative and evangelical, and in spite of Bobby spending 12 months talking about the scourge of Islam and Big Brother coming to take everyone’s Bibles away, he’s polling at 1 percent in the state. This is his audience — this is who he’s been talking to for the last year — and nobody cares. Bobby Jindal probably fucked up and installed his Iowa analytics team in a basement so he can’t even plausibly claim to be polling above ground.
The one shining light to take away from the Jindal announcement is that his prospects are so dim that nobody really needs to spend much time hating the guy or being frightened of him anymore. At most, if a Republican wins in 2016, he could find himself in the extremely unlikely position of being the vice president, or, more likely, fleeing his home state for a job as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Far more plausibly, he’s about to write a dead-end blog for the Heritage Foundation.
But for the time being, he’s going nowhere, providing people watching from home one of the rarest but purest delights in politics: when someone has become such a clown show — when they’ve made themselves so politically impotent — that you can look at them, and don’t have to say anything more than, “Get a load of this asshole.”