By David A. Fahrenthold and James Hohmann
June 24, 2015
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a one-time rising star in the Republican Party now struggling to become one again, will announce Wednesday afternoon whether he intends to run for president in 2016.
Jindal's appearance -- to be held in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner at 5 p.m. Eastern time -- does not seem much of a mystery. The 44-year-old two-term governor has given every indication that he will run.
He has already traveled multiple times to early-primary states -- spending 45 percent of his days outside of Louisiana last year. And this year, some of Jindal's top state-government aides have already left to join his presidential "exploratory committee."
If Jindal does get into the race as expected, he will be the first Indian-American to ever be a serious candidate for president. But at this point, his chances of winning the GOP nomination seem extraordinarily low.
There are already 12 other major Republican candidates in the race, with several more expected to enter soon. And Jindal is running behind nearly all of them: Several recent polls have shown him at just 1 percent support among GOP voters, either last or tied for last.
In the most recent Fox News poll, the news was even worse. Jindal wasn't just behind all the other candidates, he was also behind "None of the Above," which got 2 percent.
Jindal aides and advisers say that a central part of the governor’s pitch will be that he is “fearless.” His recently declared opposition to gay marriage and an executive order on religious freedoms will be data points to show that he’s willing to take on the corporate wing of the party in ways that no one else is.
“He’s not afraid to talk about things that normal politicians are nervous to talk about,” one aide said, previewing the announcement anonymously because Jindal has not formally announced his candidacy.
In the months leading up to an announcement, Jindal has tried to stand out from his GOP rivals by playing up his Catholic faith, being unusually hawkish on defense issues, and being unusually tough on fellow Republicans in Washington.
Jindal has said that Congressional Republicans frequently surrender to President Obama on issues like immigration and health-care reform, and "need a spine."
Jindal, the Louisiana-born son of Indian immigrants, has also been strident about the need for immigrants to assimilate quickly into American culture.
Jindal has derided the idea of "hyphenated Americans," saying that people who call themselves Indian Americans and African Americans should think of themselves as simply Americans first.
Jindal has also called for barring people who believe in "radical Islam" from coming to the United States at all.
“So in other words we shouldn’t tolerate those who want to come and try to impose some variant of, some version of Sharia law,” Jindal told a conservative think tank in March, according to The Guardian newspaper. “I fear if we don’t insist on assimilation,” he said, “we then go the way of Europe.”
Just eight years ago, Jindal's future looked far brighter than it does now.
The former Rhodes Scholar and McKinsey consultant was elected governor at age 36, the first Indian American ever to govern a state. “The question is not whether he’ll be president,” Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said in 2008, “but when he’ll be president.”
Jindal seemed to offer a new vision of what a Republican could be: an Ivy League-educated son of immigrants, who had a relentless focus on making government run faster, smarter and cleaner.
“We’ve laughed at our politicians and the ones that have gone to jail and made the funny jokes,” Jindal said in 2007, after he was elected governor on the second try. “But it’s not funny anymore.”
But, as Jindal pondered higher office, he seemed to fall into a strange and vicious negative-feedback loop.
To address doubts among national conservatives, Jindal repeatedly embraced harder-line conservative positions -- both in terms of Louisiana's budget and in terms of social issues. But each time, he moved further away from the wonky, pragmatic persona that had made him famous in the first place.
So the doubts grew. And Jindal tried to be more hard-line. And so on.
Jindal's problems on the national stage began in 2009, when he was selected to give the GOP response to President Obama's first address to Congress. The response wound up being more memorable than the speech -- but not in a good way. Jindal seemed overly slow and over-earnest, like a man explaining the government to toddlers. People compared him to Kenneth the Page, the child-like character on NBC's comedy "30 Rock."
Since then, Jindal has tried to re-build his reputation among conservatives with a rigid anti-tax stance in Louisiana. In fact, legislators say, Jindal has often allowed the Washington-based group Americans for Tax Reform to dictate the details of his own budget policies.
The results was repeated blowups with the GOP-led state legislature, and threats of devastating cuts in the state budget. By the end of this year's session, legislators were so unhappy with Jindal that they tried to stop paying for his security detail at presidential campaign events.
That fighting over the budget -- and Jindal's frequent trips out of state -- also caused his in-state popularity to plummet. In his first year as governor, 77 percent of Louisianans thought he was doing a good job. By last month, the figure had fallen to 32 percent, an all-time low.
Jindal's advisors are hoping that the only place to go now is up.
"Nobody knows who he is," as one aide put it. They believe most voters still only remember the governor from his botched response speech, and that -- if the bar is set that low -- voters will be pleasantly surprised to hear a more polished, experienced Jindal speak now.
He will spend this Thursday and Friday in New Hampshire and Iowa, with more travel scheduled after that. Aides think he’s an excellent retail politician, and that his up-from-the-bootstraps story will resonate in a contest with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the heir to a presidential dynasty.
In preparation for this run, Jindal's supporters launched a super PAC called "Believe Again." That motto echoed one from Jindal's first inaugural address as governor: "I'm asking you to once again believe in Louisiana."
But, in this crowded field, Jindal doesn't even have a full claim on his own slogan. BuzzFeed reported this week that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), was also using "Believe Again" as a slogan for his own, better-polling presidential campaign.
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