Woody and Bobby


On Friday, I saw Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) address the National Press Club ostensibly to talk about his remarkable political success in only six months as governor of Louisiana. Most of the questions, predictably, focused on whether he'd run for vice president with John McCain. On Saturday, I refreshed the state's election sites as Woody Jenkins, once promoted in the pages of reason as "America's most libertarian legislator," battled for a safe House seat in the Baton Rouge area. Woody blew it, and the Democrats picked up the seat. Kathryn Jean Lopez (who was at the Press Club) linked the two events, calling it "further evidence Jindal has his work cut out for him."

I'd link the two events differently: I think it's fantastic that Jenkins has collapsed on the runway and Jindal's carrying the Louisiana conservative torch. Jenkins was a movement dead-ender, the kind of guy who voted the hard line against taxes and abortion (displaying plastic fetuses to hound pro-choicers) while Democrats ran the state into the ground. Jenkins was a true-blue believer in white populism who bought David Duke's mailing list (for a Senate campaign run by now-Family Research Council guru Tony Perkins).

Jindal is basically the antithesis of all this. I wasn't too impressed by him in the U.S. House (remember when the Republicans dyed their fingers purple in "solidarity with the people of Iraq?" Yep, him.) but he's a shockingly good, clear-headed governor. Jindal headhunted a Fortune 500 executive to run his state department of Labor and commanded him to prune it down. In response, the secretary came up with a plan for abolishing the department. This is what you fantasize about Republicans doing before they go and do things like hire Tom Ridge to lobby for the duct tape industry.

This is why I agree with Ross Douthat on the Jindal-for-president buzz.

The question… is whether a young and promising governor like Jindal would want to be dubbed the heir-apparent to a President who would have won the White House in spite of his party's deep unpopularity, and whose administration would be almost certainly defined as the last gasp of Reagan-era Republicanism, rather than the first step into whatever's next for the GOP. Which is to say, even if a veep slot led to a Presidential campaign further down the road, by hitching his ambitions to a McCain Administration, Jindal might be signing up to play Walter Mondale, rather than the Bill Clinton he could hope to be instead.

And his party needs it even more than the 1992 Democrats.