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.
“I never thought Bobby would run for office,” Mary Beth Guillot, Jindal’s high-school principal had told Newsweek the previous year. “He just wasn’t the backslapping, glad-handing type.”
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.”