The future once looked so bright.
As an Ivy-League graduate and the son of immigrant parents, Bobby Jindal had impressive credentials and the potential to broaden the base of support for his party. “Is Bobby Jindal the GOP’s Obama?” Newsweek asked in 2008, shortly after Jindal was elected Louisiana’s governor. “The question is not whether he’ll be president, but when,” Republican strategist Steve Schmidt told the Washington Post.
That won’t come to pass—at least not in the 2016 presidential race.
A seemingly upbeat Jindal announced his decision to drop out of the White House race on Tuesday during an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier. “This is not my time. I’ve come to the realization that this is not my time,” Jindal said.
It’s not hard to see why. Fighting to make a mark in a crowded Republican field, Jindal struggled to gain traction in national polls or to raise the kind of money that could make his candidacy competitive. His track record as Louisiana governor and his policy-wonk persona did little to help him. This primary season has rewarded style over substance and seen self-styled outsider candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who have not spent years locked up in elected office, surge in the polls. All three Republican candidates who have now dropped out of the 2016 race—Jindal, Scott Walker, and Rick Perry—have been governors.
Jindal’s failed White House bid was marked by his struggle to clearly define an identity as a candidate. Voters were left confused as to exactly who Jindal was and what he stood for.
The governor lamented a lack of interest in “detailed policy papers” in the midst of a “crazy, unpredictable election season” on Tuesday, but he was hardly above the antics of the season. Jindal spent a significant amount of time on the campaign trail chasing the spotlight and did so to a degree that stood out as attention-seeking even in a field where Republican candidates have done everything from taking a chainsaw to the tax code to creating a video depicting the many ways to destroy a cell phone.
Jindal jokingly remarked in August that “the best way to make news is to mention Donald Trump.” He seemed to take his own advice seriously, offering up a barrage of criticism aimed at the real-estate mogul.
Plenty of Republican presidential contenders have attacked Trump, but as he did so, Jindal failed to make clear why he was running for president in the first place. In contrast, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has also struggled to make a dent in the polls, and resorted to taking shots at Trump, but has maintained a clear rationale for his White House bid—a desire to elevate the issue of foreign policy on the campaign trail and to push for deployment of U.S. forces to Iraq and Syria.
Jindal, moreover, is not a natural political performer. His attempts to chase the spotlight by railing against Trump felt forced.
The past presaged his more recent struggles. Amid predictions that he represented the future of the Republican party, Jindal delivered the Republican response to president Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address. He was supposed to shine, but the performance was widely panned as awkward. It yielded unflattering comparisons between Jindal and the decidedly credulous character of Kenneth on 30 Rock.
Jindal’s ambition also appeared to cause him to stray from his core political identity as a respected policy wonk during his tenure as governor. Jindal delivered an energetic response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but faced criticism, including from fellow conservatives, for his handling of state budget shortfalls. That saga created a perception that the well being of Louisiana took a back seat to the governor’s national political aspirations.
In June, Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper published a letter from a Baton Rouge resident that accused Jindal of being mercurial: “Can you trust someone who is so changeable? While I think that anybody has the right to change his/her mind, Jindal has made a career out of adapting his thinking according to the changing direction of political winds.”
In light of all that, it seems simultaneously fitting and ironic that after concluding that he did not have a viable path to the presidency, Jindal announced on Tuesday that he would seek to reclaim his identity as a policy wonk.
“I’m going to go back to a think tank, one of the things I’m going to be doing, I’m going to go back to a think tank called America Next that I set up a few years ago to develop these policies,” Jindal told Baier.
“I’m not going to stop fighting for my conservative beliefs and principles, certainly we thought it would end differently, but the reality is this isn’t my time,” he added.