The Case For (And Against) Bobby Jindal as VP

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Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal speaks to guests at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on June 8, 2012 in Rosemont, Illinois.

Are you bored by Tim Pawlenty? Does the thought of Rob Portman put you to sleep? If you’re eager for a fire-breathing conservative to fill out the Republican ticket, there’s still hope. Reputable sources have been reporting that Bobby Jindal has slipped onto Mitt Romney’s short list. According to Reuters, Jindal appears to have cracked the final three. 

The case for the two-term Louisiana governor is straightforward. Jindal is a deeply accomplished guy: a Rhodes scholar and former McKinsey consultant, he nabbed a Louisiana cabinet post at 25, served a stint in George W. Bush‘s Administration, and was a member of the House before entering the statehouse in Baton Rouge. He has fiscal cred with the party’s anti-tax faction and a record of business-friendly policies. A Roman Catholic who opposes abortion, gay marriage and restrictions on gun rights, he has trenchant support among social conservatives, particularly Evangelicals.

The capstone on this glittering resume is a penchant for bone-rattling rhetoric that delights the party’s base. Just yesterday, Jindal blistered Obama as the “most liberal, incompetent president since Jimmy Carter.” Last spring, he drew notice for claiming that Obama tactically boosted gas prices to carry out his “ideology.” He’s “the best choice, hands down,” writes conservative columnist Philip Klein. If you’re a conservative, what’s not to love?

Plenty, actually. From a political standpoint, the pick doesn’t make much sense. Louisiana is a lock to go in Romney’s column. If you’re not tapping a No. 2 who can help you pick up a swing state, you want him or her to provide an entree into a demographic group. The selection of Jindal, an Indian-American, would avoid the questionable optics of an all-white-guy ticket in a rapidly changing nation; to some it might signal an effort on the part of the GOP to expand its demographics. But Jindal is a staunch conservative with little obvious appeal to swing voters. He would excite the party’s base, but sheer antipathy toward Obama has that box checked already.

From a vetting perspective, Jindal has obvious downsides. Among them are an element of his background sure to dominate cable chatter if he were selected. In December 1994, Jindal wrote an article in the New Oxford Review (teaser here; subscription required for full version) that details his presence at the dorm-room exorcism of a female friend. Without casting any aspersions on Jindal’s beliefs, it’s safe to say that Romney — who has dealt with an undercurrent of bigotry toward his own faith — likely wants to avoid a protracted discussion of religious practices that would overshadow his focus on the economy.

Jindal’s record as governor would also come under critical scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal wrote in a glowing profile this week, Jindal “has won plaudits for his smooth handling of crises such as 2008’s Hurricane Gustav and the 2010 Gulf Oil spill.” As I wrote at the time, Jindal became a hero for his aggressive attacks on the federal government’s response to the spill. But his policy prescriptions were questionable. Jindal pushed hard for the government to construct a pricey barrier of sand berms to protect the state’s marshland from oil, and the project was ultimately OKed over the objections of scientists. An investigative commission subsequently found that the project was a $220 million boondoggle that captured little oil. In a way, it’s not surprising that Jindal’s view broke with the scientific community; as governor, he signed a bill that provides for the teaching of creationism in public schools.

Finally, there’s the comfort factor. At the start of the primary, Jindal was an outspoken supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry. He didn’t endorse Romney until April, long after Perry left the race. Unlike Pawlenty, who has been a dogged surrogate for Romney, Jindal is not said to have a strong rapport with the former Massachusetts governor. While Romney has regularly invited rumored veep candidates (such as Portman) to campaign with him over the past few months, his meeting with Jindal on Monday was the pair’s first joint meeting of this phase.

The details of Romney’s vetting are under tight wraps, and the leaks that have sprung lately (Condi Rice?) seem more like a transparent attempt to change the conversation than a true reflection of his thinking. So it’s hard to assess whether Jindal’s really in serious contention. But as a matter of pure speculation, his shortlisting seems like a salute to the GOP base. The smart money is still on Romney tapping a boring white guy.