Who told you from the beginning that one-on-one debates were the only way to go? The wonkiest conservative governor in America versus America’s most famous populist conservative senator, debating an issue that’s helped define both of their careers? I’d watch. You’d watch. Some Iowa voters would watch. It’s a no-brainer … for everyone except Ted Cruz.
Win/win for Jindal, though. If Cruz declines, then Sen. Debate Champion looks like a chicken. If he accepts, then Jindal gets a forum to show off his health-policy chops opposite the guy who’s blocking his lane in Iowa.
“He said he’ll debate anyone, anytime, so let’s do it in Milwaukee,” Jindal said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’m happy to do it.”
Jindal pointed to Cruz’s recent comments on Fox News as the impetus for calling him out. “I’m happy to have as many debates as we can,” Cruz said on Wednesday. “I’m happy to debate anywhere, anytime.”
Jindal said he’d like his debate with Cruz, if it ever happened, to focus on their plans for replacing President Obama’s health-care law. He also questioned the significance of Cruz’s efforts in 2013 to shut down the government.
“You get Ted Cruz who wants to shut down the government, but he’s never even come up with his own plan,” Jindal said. “We’ve written our own plan and campaigned on it, rather than just complaining about Obamacare.”
It occurs to me that Cruz is the only top-tier candidate who really hasn’t taken a punch yet from the rest of the field. Trump’s spent four months swinging at Jeb Bush, then Ben Carson, and now Marco Rubio, and in return has taken shots from Bush and Rubio (and Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, etc). Only Cruz among the big boys remains unscathed, partly because he’s studiously avoided conflict with Trump and partly because he’s not polling well enough yet to force Rubio or Bush to worry about him. A one-on-one with Jindal would leave him open to the sort of attack he’s going to hear endlessly once his polls tick up a bit further, that he’s all hat and no cattle on policy. If you want someone to grandstand about what a weak leader Mitch McConnell is, he’s your man. If you want someone with a detailed policy vision for America, a la Mike Lee or Paul Ryan — or Bobby Jindal — then not so much. That’ll be the core attack on Cruz once the attacks begin. Why would he invite that attack to happen any sooner than it needs to by doing Jindal a favor and letting him share the spotlight for an evening? Cruz doesn’t need to prove his debate skills now; anyone who’s still unconvinced need only wait a month or two, when he’s inevitably onstage as one of the final two or three candidates and will have much more speaking time to do his thing.
If/when Cruz turns down the offer, Jindal should challenge Christie to debate — twice, maybe, with one in Jindal’s key state of Iowa and the other in Christie’s key state of New Hampshire. They’re the two most formidable lower-polling candidates and they’ve each showed some strength in their key state, with Jindal hitting six percent in one poll of IA and Christie hitting eight percent in a poll of NH. They’d both benefit from the extra attention. And if the debates turn out to be a draw locally, it might convince the networks to change their criteria going forward to get the two of them onstage for the national debates. What do they have to lose?