Monday, November 10, 2008

Four Years Wandering: The Ascension of Bobby Jindal

I guarantee an article titled similarly to this one will be written by some reconverted academic conservative at some point on or before election day 2012.

This isn't that article. But it is coming. And you won't like it.

Oyster continues to insist that there will be all kinds of hilarious moments and opportunities for blog snark along the way. He also says that conservative desperation will be such that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal could be prematurely elevated to movement figurehead in 2012, before political opportunity structures - preconditions for GOP victory - have sufficiently developed.

Here's where I think we agree:

1. National political dynamics are such that Republicans can't win anything until 2016 at the earliest, no matter how quickly or effectively the reconstitute their party to appeal to moderates, independents, Latinos, young people, etc OR how effectively they're able to quickly catch up to the Left's emerging mastery of the internet. Nor does the narrative work. As Oyster says, "Running against an incumbent Obama, the whole 'smart, young, fresh face with broad appeal and exciting dose of pigment' angle suddenly has much less traction." He's right. It wouldn't do much against an incumbent Barack Obama.

2. Bobby Jindal is being anointed as the savior of the conservative movement with such repressed fervor that there is little chance he'll be on the sidelines through 2012 even though that cycle may be politically inopportune.

We disagree elsewhere. While we both think that neither he nor any other Republican has a realistic shot of defeating an incumbent Barack Obama, I don't believe that this will truly 'complicate' anything for Jindal over the long term, at least not to the degree that I'm interpreting from Oyster's posts.

He's twice brought up the idea that running for reelection to the Governor's mansion in 2011 would prove difficult when he's spending every other weekend in New Hampshire or Iowa or South Carolina. Here I explained how I believe that assumption misreads the oppressive political opportunity structure Jindal and his GOP bankrollers have cultivated for the native son.

I made this under appreciated joke that John Neely Kennedy would be the only Democrat dumb enough to think he'd be able to compete with Jindal for control of Baton Rouge and I think it still stands. I made that comment before Election Day, which largely turned out to be a bloodbath for Louisiana Democrats. Though Senator Landrieu easily disposed of the anemic JNK campaign, rising star Don Cazayoux was pulled out of Congress and Obama lost ground to the GOP compared to 2004. Though Democrats can name a strong challenger to take on the vulnerable Senator David Vitter in 2010, the GOP establishment will not take Jindal's reelection campaign lightly. The Boysie Bollingers and Joseph Canizaros of the local Swift Boat establishment will see to it that Bobby Jindal has everything he needs. He'll also certainly be able to attract as many $2000 bills from the national base being cultivated on his behalf as he needs to intimidate any big name Democratic thinking of taking a stab.

Shorter: Jindal cruises to reelection. Cruises.

The other half of this is the national conservative movement's search for a savior and what kind of campaign they'll have organized for 2012.

One thing we can safely say since McCain officially went down in flames last week is that conservatives do indeed realize that they have a lot of work to do. They understand that they've cannibalized critical pieces to their past electoral coalitions and alienated key blocs they'll need in future elections. They understand that their organizing infrastructure needs to be revolutionized online.

And they're going to slowly work on these things. Here young GOP faithful put forth a plan to make up ground on the internet. RNC leadership is going to work to expand the tent and rebuild grassroots organizational structure in the Ken Mehlman style with either Michael Steele or Newt Gingrich.

Of course these infrastructure improvements take time and cannot compensate for a failed vision or a lack of rhetorical narrative but it doesn't take conservative movement consensus to get the ball rolling on those longer term investments. They can't move whatever message they settle on if they haven't set the train tracks in advance.

Will they have a cogent message for the nation in 2012? Will they be able to articulate a vision?

No. Democrats will trounce the GOP in 2012.

But I do think the GOP nominee can be more than a sacrificial lamb or a placeholder.

Rather, I envision a GOP being able to patch together a fairly responsive 'progressive' platform in which they applaud the competence of the Obama administration while nitpicking away at little differences here and there. The vision I have in my mind is that they'll run against Obama like Al Gore ran against George W. Bush in 2000.

"Actually my opponent and I are not all that different. We both supported the health care bill that passed Congress but I think that it needs to allow for more blah blah blah."

"In fact, we worked together to pass national broad band infrastructure bill X but now he's for blah blah blah whereas I think we really need to get back to blah blah blah."

"There's no question we're winning the war on terror but Obama made a mistake when he didn't blah blah blah."

"Argument is good. Debate is good. We have serious disagreements about how we can continue to solve our nation's problems. They want to do it in a partisan, ideological fashion. We're about reaching across the aisle. We've broken our backs to do so for this administration but we haven't seen the kind of blah blah blah that we need."

"Blah blah blah the next step in healing this economy is small business growth blah blah blah. Obama wants to tax them more but I have a plan at blah blah blah dot com that outlines exactly what I would do"

My opinion is that the GOP will not be able to run a fear campaign in 2012. They're going to need to campaign on some sort of conservative pragmatism platform. Doing so not only puts them in the best position to not make fools of themselves in 2012 but also poises them to take advantage of any Democratic missteps for the 2014 midterms and finally for the 2016 free-for-all.

The GOP won't run further to the right with Palin or some other nutjob in 2012. They'll just repackage what they currently have to draft off of Obama's unstoppable momentum. Jindal will run for President and he'll stump for the type of pragmatic conservatism that I've discussed. Whether or not he wins the nomination, settles at the VP slot, or stays out entirely, his narrative or one greatly influenced by him will ultimately guide the GOP's medium-term trajectory.

He can lose in 2012 without sandbagging his own chances in 2016. If Obama succeeds in enacting his agenda through 2010, the GOP will run an uncharacteristically congenial campaign in 2012, even if it's not any more centrist ideologically. What is your list of viable GOP candidates in 2012? Would any of them represent more of the same tear-down fear-monger style? Could that work against any popular Democratic incumbent?

Here is my list of likely GOP candidates in 2012:

1. Jindal
2. Romney
3. Huckabee
4. Palin
5. Daniels

On that list, only Palin would run a wacko campaign. All of the others would push a more confident, intellectually curious, amicable, articulate, and patriotic GOP.

And as we've seen, party elders have already thrown Governor Palin overboard.

The bottom line is that the mainstream media is already gobbling up the Jindal-as-next narrative. They love the taste of geeky wonky conservatism. Chris Cillizza has written about Bobby Jindal more than I have over the last few weeks. He's going to spend the next 4 years ranking Bobby Jindal in the top 3 on his Friday GOP nomination line. Conservative academia loves him, he passes enough litmus tests of the religious base, and he symbolically represents a 21st Century GOP through his youth and ethnicity.

Oyster thinks it's going to be a lot of fun to watch Jindal run that gauntlet. I don't think it will be a comedy of errors even if he and the GOP in general will continue to flail at a national message. Jindal's strength, in my mind, is that his youth allows him to be malleable on all sorts of Obama initiatives that might garner unbridled popular support without alienating his GOP base.

Update: Something just brought me back to this piece written last May by the Newt. In it, Gingrich expresses the understanding that attack politics couldn't work for Republicans in the current political environment:

The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti- Reverend Wright, or (if Senator Clinton wins), anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail.

This model has already been tested with disastrous results.

In 2006, there were six incumbent Republican Senators who had plenty of money, the advantage of incumbency, and traditionally successful consultants.

But the voters in all six states had adopted a simple position: "Not you." No matter what the GOP Senators attacked their opponents with, the voters shrugged off the attacks and returned to, "Not you."

The danger for House and Senate Republicans in 2008 is that the voters will say, "Not the Republicans."

After that, Newt proposes a new platform of "winning" issues that is impressively narrow and one-dimensional considering the width and depth of our nation's challenges.

Gingrich is incredibly conservative and incredibly partisan. A Gingrich-controlled Republican Party would be further to the right than that which John McCain represented this cycle. However, that isn't synonymous with this idea that the GOP would run a more extremist campaign. Rather, I think Newt's article rather bolsters my argument that the minority GOP will run a congenial and unimaginative 'these are our issues' campaign in 2012 that allows them to grope toward a vision and hold the coalition without inflicting further damage to the brand name.


oyster said...

"The GOP won't run further to the right with Palin or some other nutjob in 2012."

I think you misunderestimate the zealotry of our conservative friends. I don't think they'll do an "Obama-lite" campaign. No way. The base was barely pacified this time around when (in their view) moderate McCain brought Caribou Barbie on board.

See, conservatives believe that being more conservative is the cure-all to any problem. Sure, they'll work on their marketing to the masses, but they will also purify themselves ideologically (... probably into near-term political oblivion). I expect the next nominee to definitely be a jog to the right from McCain.

E said...

See I think they can jog to the right ideologically while jogging toward Obama rhetorically.

They'll most certainly pick a bigger ideologue than McCain but they won't run a campaign geared toward ideologues.

In this election they went backwards. They picked someone who appealed to the center and spent the whole campaign trying to sell him back to the right. They'll go back to the other way by 2012.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This much about something four years away, when the election just ended a week ago? I don't know whether to be impressed or, say, vomit. Kidding a bit on the latter, but this is pretty wacky.

adrastos said...

The GOP appears poised to go far right in 2012. Jindal may run for the nomination but they'll need the cracker vote so he won't get it. But in the GOP running and not winning doesn't disqualify you.

Anonymous said...

I gather you are not involved in the obama supporter reaching out movement...

Signed #48