By Elliott Stonecipher
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal might be forgiven if his mind and senses are particularly unmoored after the past week. Wow! How does a presidential candidate go from Gridiron Show superstar Saturday a week ago to a notable CPAC loser yesterday? After all, both events were held more or less in Washington, DC, and each is a particularly strong magnet for traditional and other news media. Plus, he told some of his best (?) jokes at both, even if he wasn’t supposed to, as noted by Politico’s James Hohmann.
What a difference one week and the absence of a political compass make, huh?
When those who pay attention to such things awoke a week ago today, the political “news” was everywhere: Louisiana’s governor was all the rage – by acclamation it seemed – of the annual cGridiron Show put on by our nation’s primo journalists. Then, we awake this morning to learn that yesterday he tied for 9th in the presidential straw poll of some of America’s most committed and engaged conservatives gathered at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. Jindal’s 3% trailed physician Ben Carson by a point, and tied with Sarah Palin. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bested Jindal by a point, and he was absent, owing to CPAC’s decision not to invite such a liberal Republican. (Yes, and he was surprised to learn that about himself, too, no doubt.)
Giving our governor his political primetime due, the Gridiron dinner and show is for and by America’s mainstream news media establishment, and has been THE nose-up-and-high D.C. ticket for 185 years, they tell us. In the Land of Talking Points, the Gridiron Show’s list of them stresses that every president since Grover Cleveland has attended, though we know from recent history that all presidents do not always bother to attend, as President Obama has proven by skipping out on the soiree a couple of years already. It’s a real bummer when that happens since the main course at the dinner is roasted president. Can’t roast it and howl away the night if it doesn’t show up, I suppose. Oh, and “suppose” is all the out-of-favor, much less unwashed masses, can do – admission to this monument to news media coziness with those they supposedly “cover” for America is by invitation only, only, only.
Be all that as it may, Jindal sat up at the dinner table with President Obama and the other grown-ups most likely to stay relatively sober, and positively “killed it,” according to the Washington Post, two words not nearly as effusive as many others written by many others. No mean feat for a “conservative” when the very large and packed room included about as many conservatives as a dinner at Michael Moore’s house. Jindal told the jokes such a crowd loves the most, punctuated by an insult of his and our state’s junior Senator David Vitter. The President laughed so hard at Jindal’s joke about “skinny guy(s) with dark complexion(s)” that he forgot such remarks are not supposed to be funny around here or there anymore.
If you ever wondered what such a left-of-center crowd must hear from a politician to love said politician, search-up “Jindal gridiron show,” read, and learn.
Then, the shocker: a mere seven days later, our governor crashed, proving the rule of political physics I wrote early in my career of caring too much about such things: the rate of a meteoric political rise is matched only by the rate of the corresponding political fall. Well-knowing its importance to any “conservative” presidential wannabe, Jindal returned to D.C. – this time the suburbs, not the Gridiron Show’s walking distance from the Capitol – to address CPAC. The jokes weren’t nearly as funny, and the one-week earlier praise from the other political side of America was apparently too fresh in the minds of CPAC-ers. When the week-earlier count of outbursts of hilarity was replaced by the actual preferential votes of top-drawer conservatives, Jindal came in 9th, trailing the current list of conservative faves: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Dr. Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz.
When CPAC devotees cast the corresponding vote three years in advance of the 2012 presidential election, at its 2009 gathering, Jindal placed 2nd, trailing only Mitt Romney. Somehow, that vote now seems, well, footnote-ish.
If we are to believe Jindal is a viable candidate for president, the take-away from this important week for him seems clear: before he bothers to worry about how the D.C. news media establishment conditionally loves and praises him, Jindal has to have a home among, and a strategy for, American conservatives. As of today, he looks more like former Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Senator John McCain than Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. The political compass of the former two pointed north south east and west, and the compass of the latter two points 2013 conservative True North. Such is the CPAC straw poll point and purpose.
For those of us who live in Louisiana, all of this would be little more than semi-interesting political chatter were it not for the fact that our state is in serious trouble, as the upcoming legislative session will clearly and again prove. Governor Jindal’s use of Louisiana and its citizens as mice in his personal political laboratory has worn as thin as the vote for him at CPAC between 2009 and yesterday. Our governor is not focused on his state, any more or better than he is successfully feeding his consuming desire to be president.
As I and others have said since he was first elected governor, Bobby Jindal’s only hope to be president one day is to be a real governor today, one who cares more about the Oath he took in Baton Rouge than the laughs he got from those white-tie Great Mentioners in D.C.
The downward trendline of the governor’s approval ratings at home, and the CPAC vote between 2009 and yesterday, correlate perfectly for a reason. We know it, CPAC knows it, and many of those D.C. poohbahs do, too.
I hope and pray Governor Jindal figures it out … and fast.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited or accepted for this work. This work is protected, and no other use of it is permitted without the written consent of Mr. Stonecipher.