Two days ago, Louisiana Republicans overwhelmingly rejected the Republican nominee, and a handful of remaining states will deliver equally thunderous blows in the coming months. To no avail. It is no longer possible for a reasonable person to doubt Mitt Romney’s inevitability. As of this writing, bettors believe Ron Paul has a better chance of emerging as the Republican nominee than does Rick Santorum.
Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. Doubts about his flaws and convictions notwithstanding, very soon the conservative movement is going to have come to grips with this reality, and begin planning for the always arduous task of ousting an incumbent. And Mitt Romney will need to spend a considerable portion of the remaining campaign making that transition easier. To that end, it’s time to begin in earnest the quadrennial Veepstakes.
I won’t pretend even-handedness- enumerating all the various traits of every conceivable running-mate, while trying to subtly steer readers. We all have our favorites and Bobby Jindal is mine. Here begins the case for his selection.
Demography is Destinty- Except When It’s Not
Romney’s Louisiana loss was sweeping but not uniform. Once again, Governor Romney ran into a demographic wall, notably stumbling in the rural areas.
In 18 parishes, Romney won 20% of the vote or less.
Acadia, Allen, Bienville, Caldwell, DeSoto, Evangeline, Franklin, Jackson, LaSalle, Livingston, Richland, St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. James, Union, Vermillion, Washington, and West Carroll.
Only one of these parishes (Livingston) had more than 2846 votes (approximately, the 64 parish average). Most had less than a thousand votes. Rural indeed. But while Romney’s struggles here were acute, they are not unique. One other recent candidate initially struggled in these same areas: Bobby Jindal. In another post, I compared two Louisiana Republican maps- the 2002 Suzanne Terrell losing Senate race (against Mary Landrieu) and the 2003 losing Jindal effort. Both resulted in approximately the same scale of loss but produced very different maps.
By comparing these maps, we can tell where Jindal initially struggled. How did he perform in these 18 parishes? He lost 16 of 18. And he performed worse than Terrell (who won 10 of the 18) in 15 of these parishes. How much worse? Well, first let’s define our terms. If Jindal lost parish X 49-51 and Terrell carried it 51-49, that’s a 4 point swing. So I’d say that Jindal did 4 points worse than Terrell in parish X. So how much worse did Jindal do, in these 18 parishes, on average? 20.5% worse. Hugely worse. Almost unfathomably worse, given the similar statewide numbers. In LaSalle parish, Jindal ran an astonishing 65.4% behind Suzanne Terrell. Indeed, Jindal probably lost registered Republicans in some of these areas.
Isn’t this, you ask, an argument against a Jindal selection? If he shares Romney’s demographic weaknesses, isn’t he ill-suited to help Romney win over these reluctant rural voters? The answer is, emphatically, no. Because, where Romney has continually struggled, Jindal ultimately triumphed. Jindal’s public career did not end in 2003. He did not retire to a comfortable cabinet position or accept a sinecure within the maze of government bureaucracy. He won a House seat and then, in 2007, ran for Governor again. That year, Jindal won 17 of these 18 parishes. He increased his percentage in all but two of them, one of which (St. Bernard Parish) was radically changed after Katrina cut its population half. And perhaps most significantly, he won a higher percentage of the vote than Terrell had- 5 years earlier- in 9 of the 18 parishes. The rural white voters who’d given Jindal so much trouble 4 years earlier had finally come home. Bubba’s for Bobby carried the day.
If Romney hopes to win in November, he will need to increase his appeal to the Bubbas. Not in Louisiana, perhaps, but in Ohio; in Indiana; in Pennsylvania and Virginia and North Carolina. And no politician in the country has more experience than Bobby Jindal in turning a well-educated, competence-minded technocrat into someone acceptable to rural voters.
It’s The Energy, Stupid
Energy Policy is one of the many issues on which the Obama Administration and the American public are decidedly at odds. Americans, it turns out, do not want skyrocketing electricity rates, nor are they keen on $4+ gasoline. A Gallup Poll released last week highlights this disconnect between administration policy and public opinion. 57% of Americans- including a plurality of Democrats- believe the Keystone Pipeline should be approved. A gaudy 68% of voters in the critical midwest want the pipeline built. No matter who Romney selects at the convention, energy will be a key Republican advantage in the fall campaign. But Jindal would considerably enhance the issue’s resonance, for two reasons.
1. He knows more about domestic energy production than anyone else- At least twice in the past month, Jindal has waxed eloquent on the energy policy failures of the Obama administration. Here he is dazzling in a late February press conference:
2. He can credibly address environmental worries- As the Governor of Louisiana during the BP oil spill, Jindal had a front-row seat to the Obama administration’s incompetent handling of the crisis and its aftermath. He can explain to the American people the extremeism of the environmental lobby. His book, “Leadership and Crisis”, is full of anecdotes of bureaucracy overriding common sense.
Ending Obamacare and Preserving Medicare
For obvious reasons, health-care is something of a minefield for Mitt Romney. Contra the Rick Santorum line, it is not quite impossible to imagine Romney turning the issue to his advantage. As this morning’s Politico story notes, Americans don’t like Obamacare, but they’ve never been too happy with Republican health care proposals either. Romney can probably offer an Obamacare replacement which will at least get the public’s attention. But if he wants Americans to do more than simply reject Obamacare- if he wants them to vote on Obamacare in an election where a dozen other priorities intrude- he’ll need a replacement that does more than just grab the public’s attention.
Enter Bobby Jindal. No politician in America has more experience in the health care sector than does Bobby Jindal. He has a Master’s from Oxford with an emphasis in health policy. At 24, he was appointed the head of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, where he eliminated 400 million in Medicaid expenses. At 29, he was an Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services. A Romney/Jindal ticket is uniquely capable of selling a vastly cheaper and less onerous replacement for Obamacare.
But what about Medicare? What about grannies and cliffs and the biennial Democratic Mediscare campaign? Here, again, Jindal is uniquely positioned to add to the ticket because of another item in his bio. In 1998, Jindal was appointed the Executive Director of the National Bi-Partisan Commission on Medicare. This is the commission Paul Ryan is referring to when he talks about the “bipartisan consensus” that emerged around premium support models in the 90s. Jindal’s book devotes an entire chapter to this experience. The title? “Saving Medicare”. Here’s a passage from page 242 of that book:
The [proposed] reform would help solve a core problem of the Medicare system: there is no relationship between pay and performance, and no incentive to compete on price. With the premium support model, health plans would be given flexibility to compete by either reducing premiums or enhancing benefits.
We expected this reform would reduce the growth in Medicare spending by a modest amount up front, and by a significant amount in the long term through “the magic of compound interest”, as Senator Gramm was fond of saying.
On Medicare, Jindal was studying and pitching Ryan-like plans before Ryan even set foot in Congress.
It’s easy to forget, given Romney’s frequently flailing campaign, but Competent Leadership was once Mitt’s brand. He revitalized a moribund Bain and Company: rescued a failing Olympics; performed creditably during the Big Dig collapse; found a friend’s lost daughter; saved a drowning family. Mitt Romney is far from perfect but he is a good man to have around in a crisis. This November, the economy will matter; the debt will matter; energy prices will matter; entitlements will matter- but in a broader sense, the election will hinge on one thing: whether or not Mitt Romney can recover that brand; whether the American public will say, in something approaching a resounding voice, “this is a good fellow to have around in a crisis”. John McCain never recovered his brand and lost. Mitt Romney must or he will suffer the same fate.
Could it be that a whiz-kid Congressman, who swept into the governorship- after a disappointing defeat 4 years earlier- on the strength of Katrina crisis leadership, could enhance the Romney brand? Could it be that what Romney needs, more than anything else, is to share a ticket with the fellow whose virtuoso performance during the BP oil spill stood as a marked contrast to the President’s hapless leadership? What do you think? Isn’t it obvious?
-Matthew E. Miller can be contacted at Obilisk18@yahoo.com