Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued executive orders Wednesday to withdraw the state from the Common Core standards and federally subsidized standardized tests, defying his state legislature, his superintendent of education and the business community — but endearing himself to tea party activists across the country who could be influential in early primary states if he chooses to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016…
Jindal was once a marquee supporter of the Common Core standards, which lay out the math and language arts concepts children should learn in every grade from kindergarten through high school. The governor helped bring the standards to Louisiana in 2010. As recently as this spring, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation included a quote from Jindal — praising the Common Core as a way to “raise expectations for every child” — in a promotional video for the standards.
But as opposition to the Common Core has mounted on both the left and right — with especially strong pushback from the tea party — Jindal changed his tune.
A likely presidential candidate in 2016, Jindal has seized on the standards as an example of federal meddling in state affairs. The Obama administration didn’t write the standards, but it pushed states hard to adopt them and spent $360 million subsidizing the development of new assessments. Just this week, Duncan publicly took Jindal to task for flip-flopping on the standards, saying the governor’s new stance had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with education.
This is headed to court, of course, as the memorandum of understanding that the state signed when it accepted federal testing says the governor can’t withdraw unilaterally. Jindal claims that state law says that the state can’t adopt testing without a competitive bidding process, which means the memorandum is illegal. Who’s right matters a lot to Louisiana schoolkids but not so much to 2016 politics: Jindal’s happy to lead the charge in court against Common Core even if he ends up losing. It’s an easy way to put him back on conservative radar screens.
Last month I wrote somewhere that his big problem in running for president is that he has no obvious niche. Righties like him, but they don’t seem to love him like they do Ted Cruz. Centrists respect his wonkishness but would prefer a loud-and-proud establishmentarian like Jeb Bush or Christie. Potentially Jindal could be a compromise candidate, acceptable to both sides, but Scott Walker seems to have the advantage there by dint of his big collective bargaining win. Maybe Jindal thinks that Common Core will be a much bigger issue than anyone expects in 2016, in which case he’s now positioned to take advantage. Jeb Bush and Christie both support CC; if it becomes an ideological litmus test among conservatives, the donor class may start looking harder at Jindal as a guy who could unite the party. (Scott Walker has also shown opposition to Common Core lately but not as dramatically as Jindal just has.) Then again, if you believe the new NBC/WSJ poll (the same one that found Obama’s job approval numbers circling the drain), conservatives are split nearly evenly on Common Core, 45/46. Maybe Jindal expects those numbers to move.
Or maybe this is more about neutralizing a liability than exploiting an opening. It hasn’t gone unnoticed among conservatives today that Jindal used to be a big Common Core fan and played a part in mainstreaming the standard nationally. Today is his atonement. Good enough? Exit quotation from CNN: “27% of Americans support the Common Core standards, with 32% saying they are somewhat in support of the program, and 31% opposed.”