Bobby Jindal may have waited too long to jump in

Timing is everything, or so they say in comedy. The same may be said for presidential primary politics. There are still a few big names left on the sidelines who are expected to jump into the 2016 GOP primary, but the lanes are already fairly full. One of the anticipated entrants is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who plans to make his announcement later this month. But has he waited too long? At least one report from the Washington Post highlights some trouble that Jindal is running into on the home front and how it might impact his chances.

Just weeks before he is expected to announce his presidential campaign, Bobby Jindal is at the nadir of his political career.

The Republican governor is at open war with many of his erstwhile allies in the business community and the legislature. He spent weeks pushing a “religious freedom” bill that failed to pass, while having little contact with legislators trying to solve Louisiana’s worst budget crisis in 25 years.

Jindal is now so unpopular in deep-red Louisiana that his approval rating plunged to 32 percent in a recent poll — compared with 42 percent for President Obama, who lost the state by 17 percentage points in 2012.

“This is very much a low point for Bobby Jindal,” said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who is preparing a book on the governor.

(Side note: The WaPo is still putting Religious Freedom in scare quotes, but I digress…)

I’ll confess, I’d just assumed that Jindal was biding his time and I hadn’t been paying much attention to what he was doing in Louisiana to get ready until now. But the Post article is correct, at least in terms of his support back home. The 32% number they are quoting is the most recent figure, but a local polling group had him even lower only a couple weeks earlier. (From Best of New Orleans)

Twenty-seven percent. That’s Gov. Bobby Jindal’s approval rating in Louisiana, according to a poll released last week by Mississippi-based Triumph Campaigns. That’s lower than former Gov. Kathleen Blanco when she left office and lower than President Barack Obama today.

That level of disapproval requires bipartisan dissatisfaction. State Rep. Jay Morris of Monroe last week called Jindal’s proposed budget fix “insane.” Baton Rouge conservative writer and activist Scott McKay added, with characteristic bluntness, “The mess Jindal has made of Louisiana’s budget is going to destroy his political career.”

Bobby Jindal seems to be facing two nearly unrelated problems which confront many Republicans in politically divided states, but both have an impact on his national aspirations. The first is the question of tax cuts… a perennial favorite and lynchpin in conservative doctrine, but also a double edged sword which has to be handled carefully. There are substantial limits on how much trickle-down economics can accomplish and the conditions for growth through lower taxes have to be in place before they show significant progress. That’s not the case in Louisiana, still coming out of the disastrous crash of 2008, and the tax cuts that Jindal pushed through have crippled the state’s budget to the point where huge, unpopular cuts in services will be required to keep them going. He came into office with a a $1.1 billion surplus from his predecessor but is now staring down the barrel of a $1.6 billion deficit. This is not a formula for popularity, as Sam Brownback is learning in Kansas, where anti-tax Republicans are now facing the nearly suicidal prospect of tax hikes to keep the ship of state afloat.

The other half of this formula is the fact that Governor Jindal went to bat for the Marriage and Conscience Act, designed to protect Christian business owners from punishment if they opt out of participating in gay marriage ceremonies. It’s a principled stand, but not popular with the large segments of Democrats in urban areas of his state. Further, the legislature – likely gun shy from the events in Indiana – expressed fears of pro-gay boycotts impacting tourism and sports activities. They bailed out on him entirely and the measure effectively died. That was another political black eye which he didn’t need when his popular support was waning.

Governors in purplish states have a delicate balancing act to do if they want to run for President. We’re seeing this in state after state this year with so many of them trying to get into the primary mix. At this point, the cards aren’t falling well for Bobby Jindal, and it’s tough to see how an official announcement will give him a big enough bump to crawl out of his essentially nonexistent position in the national polls.