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Did Jindal's past shape GOP VP pick, his political future?

If your name is Gov. Bobby Jindal and if you are politically ambitious, there’s good news and bad news with the pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the running mate of Sen. John McCain for the presidency for the Republicans in 2008. And it’s a pick Jindal perhaps inspired McCain to make.

The bad news is that should McCain win, Jindal’s not likely to get a presidential nod from the party for a long time. Palin is only seven years older than Jindal and would become the prohibitive frontrunner to succeed McCain as long as she serves without controversy as vice president. Like Jindal, she is seen as a conservative reformer, family (wo)man, and also would be an atypical nominee (i.e. not white and/or male) that could pique interest and votes for the GOP. With at least four years on the national stage, if she wants it she would be difficult to stop.

Should McCain lose, Palin still provides additional competition for Jindal. Even though the record of defeated vice presidential candidates then assuming the presidency is almost exclusively bad – only Franklin Roosevelt 12 years after his second-fiddle bid in 1920 came back to win the presidency and it took the Depression to do it – in the past several decades almost every single vice presidential pick who was in current office when tapped later ended up making a run for the presidency, regardless of whether that ticket won. At the very least she almost is a sure thing to compete in the future provided she does not self-destruct politically, thereby reducing Jindal’s chances of success.

The good news for Jindal is, if willing, his chances have increased to be on the national ticket in four or eight years. Palin will not try the second slot again so if Jindal wins the nomination despite her momentum, he’s there on it. But if he tries and loses to Palin, unless there is a lot of acrimony in the campaign (which seems unlikely given the combination of their personalities) he would create an outstanding choice to balance the ticket with her. McCain’s choosing Palin has markedly improved his status on this account.

One wonders, in fact, whether Jindal himself inspired McCain to select her – perhaps not in a way he would have desired. Palin and Jindal do have much alike and perhaps McCain at some point vacillated between the two. But what might have gotten Palin the nod (who, if you count Jindal’s congressional experience, has less national experience although she started serving as governor of Alaska in 2007 and was mayor of Wasilla prior to that) was her reformist zeal stayed truly close to conservative principles. When the time came for Jindal to support individual income tax decreases and to oppose self-serving legislative pay increases, he hesitated and unnecessarily made himself look like a proponent of established interests and big government. By contrast, Palin never showed loyalty to big government and five years ago broke with the state’s GOP over ethics issues (although she generally has been a tax-cutter as a politician, she does occasionally go off in a populist direction such as floating a windfall tax idea on oil companies).

Or, to be more blunt, did Jindal blow it with McCain when their actions showed her to be more the conservative reformer, even a “maverick” just as McCain styles himself? Had Jindal stumped immediately for the tax cut and impressively told the Legislature no huge pay increase was coming (although that would have made it a much lower-profile issue) maybe McCain, if he was looking for someone fitting this mold, would have picked him instead?

Only McCain and a different history could answer this, and only Jindal will know whether he will think about this in years to come, pondering whether some political misjudgments on his part cost him the opportunity to send his political trajectory higher than he may end up ever achieving.

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