So Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former chief of staff Timmy Teepell heads out into the private sector world of political consulting and about the first thing that comes out of his mouth is he thinks Jindal will run again for governor of Louisiana, after sitting out at least a term. Do not write this statement off as mere intrigue or wishful thinking.
Teepell has been with Jindal since the beginning of the latter’s political career and should read the political calculus of his former boss better than anybody. Or maybe he’s just stirring the pot in league with Jindal, to confuse potential future rivals for other offices available within a year either way of the end of this second term as governor. But an understanding of Jindal’s career specifically and of progressive ambition in politicians generally suggests much earnestness in Teepell’s statement.
In figuring out what successful political figures foresee for themselves one must consider the opportunities available for the individual in question and where that will get him.
The opportunities are conditioned by potential offices available and the person’s relative life circumstances. Where the guy wants to go depends on what position to which he aspires, dictating a certain set of optimal offices and ordering of them to attempt to fill.
Jindal is 40 with three small children and a wife able to have her own substantial career but for now focuses mainly on their children. We assume he aims very high in political life, all the way to the White House. Jobs may come open at the federal level as early as 2013 for him, and a Senate contest perhaps against incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu awaits in 2014. This being the case, Teepell’s scenario commends itself.
Without question, as noted previously, if Jindal got the nod for the Republican vice presidential nomination next year, that is the jackpot. It involves a minimum of campaigning and fundraising, if winning guarantees his as the major candidate for the top job in 2020 regardless of the 2016 outcome, and if losing still makes him a major contender in 2016 while keeping his day job until 2015. He would go for this in a second.
Absent that, or with a 2012 ticket loss, a run for Landrieu’s seat neither serves his purposes well nor suits his demonstrated past interests, when compared to the alternative of sitting out a term. If somehow Democrat Pres. Barack Obama can come back and make history by winning a second term despite low popularity and inferior economic numbers, this would place Jindal in poor position to make a run for the presidency in 2016, almost necessitated if he is not to lose ground to others where the next chance may come in 2024, if it doesn’t disappear completely by then. It’s far easier and effective to not have to turn around and immediately launch a national campaign on top of completing a Senate one, and in the process bring on accusations of job hopping, than coasting out of the governorship and revving into a presidential launch.
Yet even with a 2012 GOP win without Jindal on the ballot, a Senate gig doesn’t seem all that appealing to politicians like Jindal. His career demonstrates he clearly prefers the executive branch; frankly, the helpful and brief seasoning he got serving three years in the House of Representatives acted more as a placeholder so he could continue his pursuit of the Governor’s Mansion after his 2003 loss rather than any great desire to serve as a legislator. It also would require a new round of fundraising the proceeds of which get spent immediately, rather than stored in a flush state account.
Nor would Senate service really facilitate his chances of going all the way. Historically, very few men whose last office served before running for president was senator have gotten nominated, and fewer still have won. The past election represented an enormous deviation from the norm, where both major party candidates were senators and the winner was the least experienced in national politics without any executive office service at any level in the country’s history.
While that outcome of rhetoric over demonstrated competence might be explainable coming from the Democrat side, as the party increasingly has become purified in a liberalism increasingly reliant on emotive appeals given its inability to marshal fact and logic to produce an intellectual appeal, on the Republican side it’s even more difficult to be a senator and get the nomination, and has been impossible to win for over a century. Further, those that even can get the nomination were in the Senate for a long time, whereas Jindal would be eyeing runs before the decade would be out.
Then there’s the possibility that Jindal could lose in a 2014 Senate race. Likely as of today Jindal would be favored over Landrieu, but a loss in a major office a handful of years before a successful presidential run is rare. Only Pres. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were able to overcome those, and in both instances they were losses for governor and both had other resources to draw upon – Nixon already having been nominated for president once after having served as vice president and Clinton reclaiming the governorship. Jindal may not be able to take this chance of permanently derailing a chance at the presidency, although if Landrieu retired he would become the prohibitive favorite.
Finally, if opportunity doesn’t knock for Jindal on the national stage in 2016, he can spend time making a large sum of money through speaking engagements and spending much time with his family as his children enter their teens, neither of which he could do if a senator shuttling back and forth to Washington. He could financially set his family for life and enjoy quality of life with them. Unless multiple political disasters strike his gubernatorial term over the next four years, he would enter a hypothetical 2019 recapture of the office in strong position just by staying out of any office.
The only possible spot of trouble for this scenario is if, as seems likely, a fellow Republican succeeds him in 2015. This complicates matters, making 2019 a tougher contest where he would not be a big favorite, if the favorite at all depending upon how the incumbent does. Louisiana does have a history of giving governors back the office after they have sat out, even against members of the same party. However, a largely conservative reformer like Jindal going up against another like that would be qualitatively different than any contest with a former governor in it this century, with the possible exception of 1995 when moderate conservative reformers former Gov. Buddy Roemer and future Gov. Mike Foster ran – and that when Foster became governor, although Roemer had lost his reelection attempt four years earlier.
Again, it would depend on the eventual 2015 winner whether passing on the 2014 Senate race might not look so good for Jindal, under this scenario. Maybe a moderate conservative like Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne or a Democrat like New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (probably the only viable Democrat for any statewide office at present) as an incumbent would provide him a good opening to get back the office. Or a unique opportunity may present itself if Republican Sen. David Vitter pursues and wins the job in 2015, meaning Jindal has a fallback position in the Senate by running in the special election to replace him.
Still, even a wait until 2023 may not be a bad thing. In the interim, perhaps a job in a GOP administration in Washington could be in the offing. A few years in the private sector may offset criticism that Jindal has worked in government almost his entire adult life. A couple of good subsequent terms in Baton Rouge, even only one if things work out before moving on, would leave him gunning for the presidency at the latest in his late 50s. In any event, spending more years as a state’s chief executive usually works out to be less of a sideways move than heading to the Senate for those who chase the presidency. As such, Teepell’s musings may end up uncannily predictive.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:00