For the most part, two types of people become American presidents: governors and senators. As the Republican presidential primary takes its internecine tone to Louisiana, most will be focused on Governor Romney and Senator Santorum. But the fact is, there is another presidential hopeful who will carefully consider the election results. And while he will certainly support the eventual nominee, he likely knows that his own best shot at the presidency depends on that Republican losing to President Obama in November. George Will and other leading Republican strategists and pundits are becoming more and more resigned to the likelihood of an Obama victory in November. So, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal may be right to consider an open seat 2016 presidential bid.
But if Governor Romney's struggle to secure the nomination is any indication, then perhaps Jindal's problem is less about timing and opportunity and more about the substance of his record. At every turn Romney has had to defend gubernatorial decisions and opinions ranging from health care to immigration and gay marriage. Indeed, Romney's record is both his greatest asset and his greatest liability.
Were Jindal to run for president, he would similarly have to answer for past errors and present failures. Rather than hope voters ignore mistakes in the future, he may do well to correct present day problems in real time. Louisiana's hurricane mitigation and rebuilding program has been fraught with allegations leading to a federal investigation of graft, corruption and fraud. Under Jindal's leadership, the program has directed funds away from homeowners whose properties were destroyed by Katrina and instead funded renovations and elevations by people who in some cases had no storm damage at all. The program is a poster child for failure.
Were Jindal to emerge as the 2016 nominee or as a running mate of the 2012 nominee, the colossal mismanagement of this $750 million program may not go away. Efforts led by state legislators, beleaguered homeowners, and advocates alike to fix the program and get houses back online have been rebuffed by Jindal officials. One insider noted that Jindal wants legislation advanced by the state legislature that could fix these problems to "die quietly in the Senate Finance Committee, and just go away." But judging from recent newspaper articles, editorials and the growing advocacy contingent challenging the governor, it seems unlikely that the matter will subside without a fairly public debate.
After all, with a stroke of his pen, the governor could allocate the remaining nearly $300 million to home reconstruction, thereby opting for sunny photos in front of newly rebuilt homes in still hurricane ravaged areas of Louisiana.
It is an amazingly incognizant stance by the usually politically astute Jindal. After all, the turning point in the in 2006 mid-term election that caused caused Democrats to retake the House and created the initial tidal wave that resulted in candidate Obama's 2008 ascendancy to the presidency, was President George W. Bush's inability to adequately respond to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
With all eyes on Louisiana this week and a bright political future at stake, Governor Jindal would do well to repair the mitigation and rebuilding program and get storm-affected Louisianans back into their homes, lest he dash his own hopes to transition to the presidency.