Bye Bye, Bobby. Cruz In The Driver’s Seat Now

And then there were 14. Or 13, depending on how you’re counting. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal ended his campaign for the Republican nomination on Tuesday, saying it was clear that 2016 simply was “not his time.” Jindal had seen some upward movement recently in Iowa, but it was much too little, too late to think he could catch fire and become a national contender.

Jindal made a competent effort in Iowa this cycle, spending 74 days here since 2012, one of the most frequent Iowa Caucus visitors. Jindal started in the basement in Iowa polls earlier this year, back when Mike Huckabee and, to a lesser extent, Rick Santorum garnered respectable percentages from past caucus support and name ID. But as the year moved on, most conservative caucus-goers moved past the second-timers and started to look at fresher faces that held similar policy views. Jindal began to emerge in recent months as a potential contender for the evangelical bloc in Iowa, impressing voters with polished speeches and hard-right beliefs at the many multi-candidate forums and in-person campaign events. His well-funded Super PAC pitched in with large ad buys, even while Jindal’s own campaign ran a skeleton operation off of minuscule funds.

Unfortunately for Jindal, the rise of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and the superior operation and funding of Ted Cruz’s campaign gave Jindal very little room to grow. In a different year he could have broken out in Iowa, but the national media attention on flashier candidates made it impossible.

Had he stayed in the race, Jindal almost certainly would have continued his rise in Iowa, overtaken several fading candidates and possibly placed as high as fourth or fifth on caucus night. But then what? Even if his money lasted that long, such a showing – while outperforming expectations for Jindal – wouldn’t have been enough to catapult him into serious national contention. At best, Jindal was going to end up a spoiler, nothing more.

What does Jindal’s exit mean for the rest of the field?

Ted Cruz is now the odds-on favorite to win the Iowa Caucus. No, he’s not first in the polls yet, but look at the trends of the field.

Ben Carson’s personal credibility and issue knowledge are under constant assault, and there will soon come a point where even conservative voters can’t dismiss it as “liberal media” bias. Not to mention Carson does barely any campaigning here in Iowa.

Donald Trump actually retains a solid operation in the state and visits as frequently as you could expect Trump to. But he seems to be losing his mind of late, going on long, insane rants just because he drops a few points in the polls. If he doesn’t sabotage himself first, he could still place in the top three in the Iowa Caucus, but his support has certainly plateaued at best.

Two candidates consistently on the upswing over the past few months in Iowa were Rubio and Jindal. Fiorina began a rise of her own once the debates began, but her lack of campaign infrastructure squandered that momentum. Rubio may emerge as Cruz’s national competition down the stretch, but Jindal’s growing share of the Iowa evangelical vote threatened Cruz in the short-term.

Cruz’s momentum in Iowa is picking up speed every week and seems to put him on the path to surpass the front-runners Trump and Carson at some point before caucus night. Cruz knows exactly what the Republican base wants to hear and gives it to them. His networking through the evangelical community is unmatched and he’s starting to win over wider swaths of the more conservative voters. His national campaign is well-financed and built to last, and his supportive Super PACs have plenty in the bank when they finally decide to start spending.

Furthermore, conservative leaders are getting strategic with their endorsements. Many Iowa evangelical leaders have worried their influence will be blunted in the caucus, split between too many credible candidates appealing on their issues. That’s largely why radio show host Steve Deace backed Cruz early on, likely why King endorsed him this week and will impact Bob Vander Platt’s decision, expected to be for Cruz as well.

With Jindal out, that base can coalesce around Cruz all the more. True, Jindal was only getting around 6% in recent polls, but every bit counts. Iowa will likely be won by someone who gets between 25% and 30% on caucus night. And Jindal’s voters – more involved conservative activists who came out to the events where they saw Jindal in person – seem to this observer as more likely to break Cruz’s way than others (though perhaps Huckabee or even Santorum may benefit, as they’re based more in the evangelical mold than Cruz’s state’s rights/Tea Party background).

What about Jindal himself? I covered him at a number of campaign stops in Iowa and feel like some closing statements are necessary. Jindal was really rather nice and funny in person and he worked Iowa hard, which is always appreciated, if not always rewarded. But he was also exceptionally scripted, perhaps the most on-message of any candidate. That can be off-putting at times, and makes you wonder if the friendly persona is part of an act as well.

He also ran a campaign that seemed designed at appealing to the lowest common denominator, forgoing his own educated background and history of advocating for the Republican Party to rise above such simple-minded nonsense. His repeated criticism of people of color who hyphenate their nationality and call themselves “African-Americans” or “Indian-Americans” was unbelievably offensive, aimed solely at appealing to racists, and perhaps a way to help white evangelicals overlook Jindal’s own heritage. It also makes you wonder about his own psychology that he would so publicly reject and denigrate his background. For that alone Jindal’s campaign should be shunned for its small place in caucus history.

Now that he’s out of the race, I feel like sharing before I forget the most bizarre moment during the Iowa Caucus I experienced this year. Back during the last week of June I spent a day with Jindal while he campaigned in central Iowa. It was the day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, and I was particularly interested to see what he and the other most-conservative candidates had to say. I joined in the morning press gaggle outside the Machine Shed restaurant in Urbandale where Jindal uttered his soon-to-be-famous line about how America could save money by getting rid of the court altogether. It was an obvious joke when heard in person, but quickly became a “Jindal wants to abolish the Supreme Court” news story.

Anyway, that wasn’t the weirdest memory from the day. That afternoon Jindal attended a taping of Brent Roske’s show, “Roske On Politics,” at the host’s house just east of the capitol. I sat in the front row with Jindal a few feet from me. It was about a half hour interview, with some questions from both Roske and the 20 people seated in the living room. About seven minutes in, however, Roske noticed a problem with his audio recorder and had to start the interview over. No problem, that happens. But then Jindal proceeded to give the exact – like, the very exact – same answers to Roske’s questions. Not on-message similar, but for seven minutes straight, Jindal recited every sentence, word-for-word precisely the same. His body movements were mirror images as well. He spread his arms out at the exact same moment he did before in an answer. He tilted his head to the right on the same timing of a joke. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders on cue at the end of a specific sentence. It was bizarre, and hopefully this recounting accurately captures just how fascinating it was.

So I was never quite sure what to make of Jindal. He seemed like a pleasant, genuine person at times, but then would go into full robotic mode where you could basically press play on his stump speech and know what was coming. You could tell there was a larger intellect there, and a sense he was a different kind of leader at heart, but ran a campaign based on fear-mongering and easy, simplistic red-meat applause lines. Who knows what Jindal was. And with his term as Governor nearly up, his time in the political world may soon be coming to an end. Perhaps we’ll see him in Iowa one last time if he makes an endorsement.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/17/15

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