Politico noted last month that his campaign was running on fumes financially. If you squint hard, you can see what he was thinking when he got in. Like Cruz and Rubio, he’s a next-gen Republican from a minority background with a stirring “American dream” story. Unlike Cruz and Rubio, he has two terms of executive experience as a governor. He’s impeccably credentialed as a health-care wonk but he’s also got lots of red-meat social conservative appeal. Even if his campaign was destined to be poorly funded early, he could turn all of that around later by winning Iowa — which was never unthinkable given his evangelical pedigree.
That was the game plan. In reality, he’s done before Thanksgiving.
“I’ve come to realize this is not my time,” Jindal said.
The Louisiana governor struggled to gain traction during his campaign, sputtering in the polls and failing to make the main debate stage in any of the four Republican debates.
Jindal said a “crazy” election season had made it impossible for his candidacy to break through to voters — one he said didn’t focus on his many of the detailed policy positions that he outlined.
“Clearly there just wasn’t a lot of interest in those policy papers,” said Jindal.
He’s not kidding when he says it wasn’t his time. Carson and Cruz gobbled up the evangelical vote, leaving him without a base in Iowa. Meanwhile, governors have fared mysteriously poorly throughout the campaign. Rick Perry dropped out early, followed by Scott Walker; Jeb Bush has flailed since Trump got in this past summer; Christie, despite forging ahead, just got bumped from the main debate stage to the undercard due to poor polling. There’s every reason to believe that the final four for the nomination will be Trump, Carson, Rubio, and Cruz, four men with collectively zero experience as executives in public office. It’s even somewhat possible that Bush, Christie, and Kasich will poll so poorly for the next month that we’re left with a race without a single semi-credible governor still running come New Year’s Day. Why that is, I don’t know. I guess you have to blame Trump: Governors trade on their command and authority and Trump projects all the alpha-male command that any voter could need. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Perry and Jindal, the two loudest Trump critics in the race, are also among the first to exit.
There’s another sense in which this wasn’t Jindal’s time. Harry Enten was dead right when he wrote in June that Jindal should have run in 2012, not 2016. He probably wouldn’t have won — he would have been just 40 years old when the primary campaign got rolling in 2011 — but he would have slid easily into the conservative challenger role against Romney and certainly would have outperformed Rick Perry. He was popular in Louisiana at the time and his health-care expertise made him superbly positioned to attack RomneyCare; he would have caused a sensation among tea partiers eager for a credible alternative to Mittmentum. Worst-case scenario: He becomes a darling of the right thanks to his insurgent grassroots campaign and enters the 2016 race with much greater name recognition. Instead he passed, probably for the same reason that his nemesis Chris Christie did — because he thought four more years of seasoning would make him that much more appealing to voters in 2016. The lesson of Christie’s and Jindal’s abortive 2012 campaigns is that you run when an opportunity presents itself, not when you feel like you’ve finally got all your ducks in a row. Marco Rubio absorbed that lesson and decided to run this year instead of “waiting his turn” behind Jeb Bush and cooling his heels in the Senate for another six years. How’s that working out so far?
Two questions now. One: What happens to the undercard debate? Are we really going to have to watch a 90-minute conversation between Christie, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum at the next event? C’mon. Either cancel the undercard or repopulate it by raising the polling threshold to qualify for the main debate. Two: Who will Jindal endorse? Almost by process of elimination, you’ve got to think it’ll be Cruz, right? Carson’s not going to win the nomination so it’s pointless to waste an endorsement on him. Rubio’s got a real chance and could use the backing of a solid conservative like Jindal to bolster his own conservative cred, especially in Iowa, but it’s an open question whether Jindal’s voters would follow his lead. The last time PPP polled Iowa, they found the second choice among Jindal’s supporters (via a teeny tiny sample) to be Carson with 37 percent, Cruz with 22 percent, and Rubio with 12 percent. Jindal’s endorsement could steer some of those Carson fans to Cruz, the evangelical with the best chance to win the caucuses and go all the way. So Cruz it’ll probably be.