Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin: Wait 'til 2016
posted by Josh Goodman
Palin is the governor of Alaska, elected in November 2006. In comparison to Frank Murkowski, her predecessor whom she defeated in the Republican primary, she's considered a breath of fresh air.
Palin's emphasis on ethics has earned her high approval ratings in Alaska and flattery from Republicans nationally. The logic behind her as a running mate seems to be that she's a youthful, likable outsider who would help John McCain attract female voters (she's due to give birth to her fifth child in May).
But really, John McCain is going to pick someone who has presided over a state of 683,000 people for a mere 16 months as the potential leader of the world's lone superpower? The most popular mayor in the history of Austin, TX (population 710,000) wouldn't even warrant a mention in the veepstakes. (In fairness to Palin, she does have additional executive experience as the former mayor of Wasilla, population 9,236.)
Palin's qualifications would be the subject of intense scrutiny. Any kind of foreign policy flub, such as mixing up the Shiites and the Sunnis, would cause serious problems for the ticket.
Nevertheless, as Bob Novak reported, conservative activists are pushing for Jindal to be McCain's running mate. Rush Limbaugh floated the idea, which led Erick Erikson, an influential conservative blogger, to write (with a note of irony), "Bobby can't be Veep because Louisiana needs Bobby at this time. The state cannot spare him, even for the good of the party or the good of the nation."
Jindal, a former Rhodes scholar, has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence (he's 36). He was elected governor in a landslide last fall and since then has triumphed in consecutive special sessions of the legislature, winning tax cuts and ethics reforms.
It's awfully early to conclude, however, that Jindal is some sort of conservative savior. In fact, as veteran reporter John Maginnis wrote last week, Jindal is facing criticism from the legislature's fiscal conservatives for proposing the same budgetary gimmicks as Kathleen Blanco's administration.
If it's too soon to judge Jindal as governor, it will almost certainly be too soon for McCain to judge him worthy of being a running mate.
Now here's where you might ask: What about Barack Obama? Aren't these governors qualified to be vice president, if he's qualified to be president after just winning his U.S. Senate seat in 2004?
Perhaps, but that doesn't mean voters would perceive them to be qualified. In some sense, the experience expected of presidential candidates is less than what's expected of running mates.
Presidential candidates have to spend two years attending debates, giving speeches, holding press conferences and managing a campaign. That process gives voters ample opportunity to judge a candidate's readiness for the job, regardless of what is on his or her resumé.
Since they only participate in that process for a few months, running mates require a leap of faith, both from the voters and the candidates who select them. The leap is smaller if the running mate has a long record of experience.
That dynamic doesn't rule out the possibility that a recently elected governor or a small-state governor could ever win a spot on a presidential ticket. It's happened before, although Spiro Agnew isn't exactly a person Jindal's and Palin's supporters should want to cite.
But I don't think Palin or Jindal is what McCain needs in a number two. McCain's age means that voters will scrutinize his running mate's qualifications even more than usual.
What's more, if Obama is the Democratic nominee, the McCain campaign will want to argue that he's not ready to be president. Among possible running mates, Palin and Jindal would be uniquely unqualified to make that argument.