Joe Gandelman: Race of the 2016 elephants begins
They’re off and running for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination — and as they run you can see the elephants’ different styles.
Last year, after the GOP’s loss in the elections, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said: “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.” Some conservatives and talk show hosts weren’t happy with his call for less over-the-top polemics and partisan hackery, and Jindal seemed to be trying to inch away from it. So it wasn’t surprising that he’d use President Barack Obama’s recent meeting with the bipartisan National Governors Association to send a message to the conservative choir that he’s still singing their political tune.
As the meeting ended and governors talked about how meeting with Obama was a way to work together on common ground, Jindal offered a different take: “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,” he declared, adding that on job growth Obama was “waving the white flag of surrender.” This shattering of NGA bipartisan protocol infuriated Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy, who called Jindal’s comments “the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”
Jindal doubled-down: “If that was the most partisan statement [Malloy] heard all weekend, I want to make sure that he hears a more partisan statement which is I think we can also grow the economy more if we delayed more of these Obamacare mandates.” Malloy called Jindal a “cheap shot artist” as he departed.
NBC’s First Read noted: “Since we’ve been covering politics, there have been plenty examples of bipartisan governors ...Those days are long gone...” Indeed, the next day, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, you could almost smell Jindal’s pride for his bipartisanship-shattering work and successful attention grabbing, as he used straw men rhetoric to answer critics.
“To those that are offended that I didn’t follow the [NGA’s] etiquette book, the reality is the substance is more important,” he said, noting that “in America we don’t have a king... I know Democrats sometimes don’t like the second amendment. I thought they were still for freedom of speech and the first amendment, so I’m a little surprised. Instead of having a debate about the substance, they just act offended.”
So “substance” is accusing Obama of surrender on job growth? It’s as if the guy who once said the party should stop looking “stupid” now is saying: “Wait, I didn’t mean it! Can you ever forgive me? I can act as hyper partisan as anyone else. See how I riled the Democratic governors? See how I sandbagged a normally bipartisan event that I knew from the start is normally bipartisan? See how I’ll never cease stop promoting your cause? See how I got lots of press and sound bites? I’m just who you need to take on Hillary!”
Meanwhile, another, quieter apparent campaign is also being waged. Republicans and GOP donors upset over New Jersey Gov. Christ Christie’s national political stock falling as quickly as Piers Morgan’s ratings are reportedly encouraging former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to run. The Washington Post calls whether Bush runs “the single biggest question mark” of 2016, but some reports say Bush now open to the idea. Bush does not view bipartisanship or expanding the GOP tent as vices.
Bush remains the hope for Republicans who don’t want to see a too-far-right conservative or a libertarian who breaks from Republican establishment tradition on foreign policy issues heading the ticket. And a new poll finds he now has considerable support. A CBS News-New York Times poll finds 41 percent of Republicans would like to see Bush run, 39 percent would support a bid by GOP libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and only 31 percent want Christie.
The poll story doesn’t mention Jindal. But here’s good news for Louisiana’s Governor: his almost gleeful partisan comments following a meeting known for its bipartisanship erased his branding as the person who urged the Republican Party not to be known as the “stupid party” — and rebranded him as the epitome of one of its members.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at email@example.com.