Why Bobby Jindal and David Vitter Hate Each Other

Louisiana’s two most powerful Republicans are are also bitter enemies, and it’s hurting both of their careers.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter in 2010.
National Journal
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Karyn Bruggeman
Feb. 25, 2015, 3 p.m.

Bobby Jin­dal and Dav­id Vit­ter have every reas­on to be friends. Jin­dal would love to have Vit­ter praise him as he looks to make the leap from Louisi­ana Gov­ernor’s Man­sion to the White House. Vit­ter, mean­while, would be­ne­fit from Jin­dal’s sup­port as he cam­paigns to take the out­go­ing gov­ernor’s job. But none of that is hap­pen­ing. In­stead, years’ worth of bad blood between the two is spill­ing out, hurt­ing both Re­pub­lic­ans as they at­tempt to leap to high­er of­fice.

Vit­ter is rip­ping Jin­dal’s Louisi­ana leg­acy at a time that Jin­dal is hop­ing to use it as a spring­board his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. Jin­dal is re­fus­ing to en­dorse Vit­ter—he says he won’t en­dorse any­one in the primary—and mem­bers of his polit­ic­al team are in­stead throw­ing in with one of the sen­at­or’s Re­pub­lic­an rivals.

The pair’s poor re­la­tion­ship dates back to 2007, when Jin­dal was in the midst of his second run for gov­ernor and Vit­ter was caught up in the D.C. Madam pros­ti­tu­tion scan­dal. Jin­dal made no ef­fort to de­fend Vit­ter then, and three years later, the rift was ce­men­ted when Jin­dal de­clined to en­dorse Vit­ter dur­ing his 2010 bid to keep his Sen­ate seat.

In a re­cent in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, Jin­dal offered a rare pub­lic ac­know­ledge­ment of the root of his feud with Vit­ter. After first de­fend­ing him­self from cri­ti­cism over Louisi­ana’s budget short­fall, Jin­dal said, “If you turn [your re­cord­er] off, I’ll tell you what I really think about him.

“I made it very clear we wouldn’t en­dorse. I didn’t en­dorse the sen­at­or the last time he ran, and he was up­set about that. He was pub­licly up­set about that.

“But the bot­tom line is, I made it clear I’m not en­dors­ing [in the gov­ernor’s race]. I don’t gen­er­ally en­dorse in a Re­pub­lic­an primary,” Jin­dal con­tin­ued. “It’ll be up to the can­did­ates to make their case to the voters. I’d hope that the can­did­ates will be hon­est with voters if they in­tend to raise taxes, and be hon­est with voters over where they stand on edu­ca­tion re­form. I’d hope they wouldn’t go back­wards on school choice and oth­er things we fought so hard to get done.”

Vit­ter’s of­fice re­spon­ded with a state­ment that dis­missed the im­port­ance of the 2010 non-en­dorse­ment and made what ap­pears to be a swipe at Jin­dal’s long-stand­ing na­tion­al polit­ic­al as­pir­a­tions. “As I’ve clearly said, this will be my last polit­ic­al job—elec­ted or ap­poin­ted—peri­od,” Vit­ter said in the state­ment. “I’m run­ning for gov­ernor to con­front Louisi­ana’s biggest chal­lenges head-on, not to avoid them or play polit­ics with them. I’m run­ning to build a bright­er fu­ture for Louisi­ana, and any pre­vi­ous races aren’t par­tic­u­larly im­port­ant.”

Des­pite Jin­dal’s re­fus­al to make a pub­lic en­dorse­ment, he has close ties to Louisi­ana Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion­er Scott An­gelle, a Demo­crat-turned-Re­pub­lic­an who is one of the highest-pro­file rivals to Vit­ter, the fa­vor­ite in the race. Jin­dal ap­poin­ted An­gelle to a num­ber of polit­ic­al jobs in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing sec­ret­ary of nat­ur­al re­sources, the gov­ernor’s le­gis­lat­ive li­ais­on, and in­ter­im lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor in 2010.

Jin­dal’s primary in-state fun­draiser, Al­lee Bautsch, is work­ing for An­gelle, as is Jin­dal’s former me­dia con­sult­ant, Roy Fletch­er. On­Mes­sage, the GOP con­sult­ing firm for Jin­dal’s top polit­ic­al ad­viser Timmy Teep­ell, con­duc­ted a poll for An­gelle last spring when he was con­sid­er­ing the race. An­gelle’s cam­paign man­ager, Ry­an Cross, said An­gelle has since re­placed On­Mes­sage with McLaugh­lin and As­so­ci­ates as his primary poll­ster. Teep­ell is open about his firm’s past work for An­gelle and de­scribed him in an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al as “a good friend.”

Polit­ics is full of one­time rivals who put polit­ic­al dif­fer­ences aside when it be­comes polit­ic­ally ad­vant­age­ous to do so. And, once upon a time, Jin­dal and Vit­ter got off on a great foot. Be­fore their fall­ing out, Vit­ter used to of­fer up a sunny an­ec­dote about his first meet­ing Jin­dal in 1992. Vit­ter sat on the com­mit­tee re­spons­ible for in­ter­view­ing loc­al stu­dents for Rhodes schol­ar­ships, and one of those stu­dents was Jin­dal. After Jin­dal’s in­ter­view, as Vit­ter told it, “I came home and told my wife, ‘I just met some­body today who makes me feel both stu­pid and old.’ “

So why can’t Jin­dal and Vit­ter bury the hatchet?

For one thing, along­side the per­son­al an­im­us, there’s a long-stand­ing and on­go­ing policy fight between them. Jin­dal’s camp looks to ce­ment his leg­acy with a suc­cessor who will stay the course, and Vit­ter is mak­ing no such prom­ises. With the state fa­cing a $1.6 bil­lion short­fall, Vit­ter re­cently went on the re­cord cri­ti­ciz­ing Jin­dal in The New York Times for a “broken fisc­al policy.” 

Vit­ter has also been work­ing since at least 2007 to po­s­i­tion him­self as a king­maker among Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­ans, and he has had suc­cess in put­ting can­did­ates in­to of­fice—in­clud­ing some who have clashed with Jin­dal. Vit­ter that year formed the Louisi­ana Com­mit­tee for a Re­pub­lic­an Ma­jor­ity, a PAC that is widely cred­ited with help­ing the GOP win con­trol of both cham­bers of the state Le­gis­lature. The Vit­ter-backed can­did­ates in the Le­gis­lature are known as the “fisc­al hawks,” and they’ve at times bucked Jin­dal as he has tried to en­act his agenda.

“There’s a wing of Vit­ter sup­port­ers who have tried to make it very dif­fi­cult for Jin­dal from the be­gin­ning, es­pe­cially the ones that are in the Le­gis­lature, and set­ting it up for Vit­ter to come in and save the day were he to be gov­ernor,” said one Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant.

Jin­dal has also at­temp­ted to get in­volved in state races, but his suc­cess there has been lim­ited, with sev­er­al of his pre­ferred can­did­ates los­ing. “Even when [Jin­dal and Teep­ell] tried to be king­makers, it hasn’t worked for them,” said Robert Mann, the com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for former Demo­crat­ic Gov. Kath­leen Blanco. “But I think it’s mostly be­cause Bobby just hasn’t shown much in­terest in be­ing the guy who really builds the Re­pub­lic­an Party in Louisi­ana and plays that role. He’s been much more in­ter­ested in try­ing to put to­geth­er a na­tion­al plat­form.”

The feud’s stay­ing power also stems from the frac­tious nature of Louisi­ana polit­ics. The state has an open-primary sys­tem, in which, if no can­did­ate wins an out­right ma­jor­ity. the top two vote-get­ters com­pete in a run­off, re­gard­less of their party af­fil­i­ation. That, com­bined with an elect­or­ate lean­ing to the GOP, has cre­ated a situ­ation in which Re­pub­lic­ans rarely have the need to present a united front against Demo­crats.

“Louisi­ana is an ope-primary sys­tem where the party ap­par­at­uses are pretty weak, and so, largely, it be­comes sort of a tri­bal polit­ics,” said one state polit­ic­al op­er­at­ive. “So it’s the Vit­ter team, the Jin­dal team, the [Lt. Gov. Jay] Dardenne team, and now you’ll prob­ably see a [Sen. Bill] Cas­sidy team emer­ging.”

But while Jin­dal and Vit­ter have both suc­cess­fully op­er­ated in­de­pend­ently thus far, the dis­unity is com­ing back to haunt them—es­pe­cially Jin­dal, as he tries to find an open­ing in an ul­tracom­pet­it­ive Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial primary field.

“I nev­er thought it would be in Jin­dal’s best in­terest to have a bad re­la­tion­ship with your fel­low Re­pub­lic­an United States sen­at­or. And I don’t know if any­one’s ever done that in any of the oth­er states. You just don’t do that,” said Bernie Pin­son­at, a Louisi­ana-based poll­ster with South­ern Me­dia & Opin­ion Re­search. “I don’t know what caused Jin­dal to do it. I don’t think it worked out very well for him.”

COR­REC­TION: Jin­dal’s gubernat­ori­al run in 2007 was his second bid for the of­fice, not his first.

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