Bobby Jindal’s Clickbait Campaign

Policy dissertations haven’t gotten him any 2016 traction, so he’s turning to pop-culture references — and trying to piggyback off the Donald Trump media machine.

National Journal
Ben Geman
Add to Briefcase
Ben Geman
Aug. 14, 2015, 1 a.m.

Don­ald Trump. Martha Stew­art. “Pris­on time” for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Or­ange Is the New Black. In the past week on the cam­paign trail, Bobby Jin­dal has men­tioned them all.

Jin­dal has been the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor of Louisi­ana since 2007. He’s a former Rhodes Schol­ar who au­thored a dense, nearly 200-page thes­is on health policy and Judeo-Chris­ti­an val­ues. And he’s the per­son who in 2013 called on Re­pub­lic­ans to “stop be­ing the stu­pid party.”

But right now, he’s a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate who’s polling at around 1 per­cent. So as he fights for at­ten­tion in a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial field that’s 17 mem­bers strong, he’s do­ing whatever he can to grab some sun­light — in­clud­ing giv­ing red meat to the party’s base and mak­ing for­ays in­to pop cul­ture.

And while cam­paign gim­micks and his­tri­on­ics are far from unique in this pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, or any oth­er, what sets Jin­dal’s ap­proach apart is the trans­par­ency and self-aware­ness with which he’s de­ploy­ing it.

“I real­ize that the best way to make news is to men­tion Don­ald Trump,” Jin­dal quipped Monday in an Iowa speech, ac­cord­ing to pre­pared re­marks that his cam­paign sent to re­port­ers. “That’s the gold stand­ard for mak­ing news these days. So, I’ve de­cided to ran­domly put his name in­to my re­marks at vari­ous points, thereby en­sur­ing that the news me­dia will cov­er what I have to say.”

The gold stand­ard was met. The cov­er­age was en­sured. And Jin­dal got a burst of stor­ies with his name in the head­lines. (Nearly all of them had “Trump” in the head­line as well.)

When the en­tire GOP field took their shots at Hil­lary Clin­ton over her private email-serv­er scan­dal, Jin­dal went all in. Not­ing Clin­ton’s state­ment to a fed­er­al judge that she had provided all her work-re­lated email to the State De­part­ment, Jin­dal called the Demo­crat­ic fa­vor­ite “one email away from pris­on time.”

The he brought Martha Stew­art, who once served five months in pris­on for ly­ing to in­vest­ig­at­ors about a stock trans­ac­tion, in­to the equa­tion. “Maybe her friend Martha Stew­art can stop giv­ing her in­teri­or-dec­or­at­ing ad­vice and give her jail­house-sur­viv­al tips in­stead. Or­ange really will be the new black,” he said Tues­day, ref­er­en­cing the Net­flix series about wo­men in pris­on.

Jin­dal’s cam­paign de­fen­ded his tac­tics. “Do you prefer bor­ing? We don’t use the talk­ing points oth­ers use. Amer­ic­ans want straight talk,” Shan­non Dir­mann, his press sec­ret­ary, said in an email ex­change. “The gov­ernor is hav­ing fun on the trail in Iowa; the voters are en­joy­ing it. And truth is stranger than fic­tion. … Simply telling the truth about Hil­lary Clin­ton is ex­plos­ive.”

Not every­one, however, is con­fid­ent it will get res­ults: “Clev­er sound bites do not get you to the White House,” said Re­pub­lic­an strategist John Fee­hery, who is not af­fil­i­ated with any of the GOP cam­paigns. “That is no sub­sti­tute for a real strategy.”

But what else is Jin­dal to do? Jin­dal doesn’t have a $100 mil­lion su­per PAC like Jeb Bush. He doesn’t have the name re­cog­ni­tion and full-on Iowa in­fra­struc­ture of Scott Walk­er. And he didn’t even get to par­ti­cip­ate in the prime-time de­bate, where can­did­ates such as John Kasich and Marco Ru­bio got to ad­dress an audi­ence of mil­lions without spend­ing a dime.

Fur­ther, it’s not as if Jin­dal has es­chewed his wonk­ish roots. He came to Wash­ing­ton this Feb­ru­ary hop­ing to make a splash with a na­tion­al plan for edu­ca­tion policy, and his web­site has lengthy ex­plan­a­tions of his policy plans on en­ergy, health care, edu­ca­tion, and de­fense. None of that, however, has res­cued him from the back of the pack.

Jin­dal has plenty of com­pany in his pre­dic­a­ment, and his fel­low mem­bers of the pelo­ton are also hop­ing for vir­al hits that will vault them in­to the top tier. Rick Perry is beef­ing with Trump like they’re on rival mu­sic la­bels, Lind­sey Gra­ham put his cell phone in a blender, Mike Hucka­bee used a Holo­caust com­par­is­on to de­scribe Pres­id­ent Obama’s Ir­an nuc­le­ar-arms policy, and Rand Paul took a chain­saw to the tax code.

In oth­er elec­tions, long-shot can­did­ates like Jin­dal have made the leap with stunts, hy­per­bole, and cre­at­ive mes­saging that catches fire with the pub­lic and gen­er­ates me­dia buzz — scor­ing the can­did­ate the type of vis­ib­il­ity that would oth­er­wise cost a for­tune in ad­vert­ising. That’s how, dur­ing the 2012 pres­id­en­tial race, Her­man Cain rode his “9-9-9” tax pro­pos­al to a brief mo­ment of glory, and it’s how Michele Bach­mann revved up the party base enough to win the Iowa straw poll.

But in 2016, however, the hy­per­bole and me­dia hype is be­ing hoovered up by Don­ald Trump, a celebrity can­did­ate with noth­ing to lose and a near preter­nat­ur­al abil­ity to keep his name in the news. And so Jin­dal is do­ing whatever he can to get some shine on his sap­ling cam­paign — and hop­ing that soon­er or later, Trump will stop blot­ting out the sun.

What We're Following See More »
Sen. Graham Supporting Sessions
3 hours ago

"Sen. Lindsay Graham said he is '100 percent behind' embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and said there would be 'holy hell to pay' if President Donald Trump fires him. Graham also said that if the president went after special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who’s directing the investigation into possible contacts between Trump’s circle and Russia, that could be the 'beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.'"

Sanders New WH Press Secretary
4 hours ago

"With little pomp or circumstance, Sarah Huckabee Sanders stepped up to the briefing room podium and got straight to business Friday, reading announcements about "Made in America Week" and a new executive order on defense. Minutes later, newly minted communications director Anthony Scaramucci announced she was formally taking over as White House press secretary. In the aftermath of a chaotic communications staff shakeup at the White House last week, there was little attention paid to a new milestone as Sanders assumed the role."

No Instructions to Pentagon, No Change in Transgender Policy
5 hours ago

"The highest ranking military officer in the country said that the military’s transgender policy won’t actively change until President Trump sends specific directions to the Pentagon. 'There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance,' Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford wrote in a letter."

FLOTUS First Trip Solo
5 hours ago
Two of Trump’s Top Advisors Feuding
6 hours ago

"A long-simmering feud between two of President Trump’s top advisers reached a boiling point Thursday, as White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci publicly insinuated that chief of staff Reince Priebus is a leaker."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.