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Jindal, Revisited (a.k.a., Department Of I Told You So)

Not that long ago, there was a widespread sense that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was a GOP superstar in the making--and quite possibly the Republican with the best chance of beating Barack Obama in 2012--because he was, to some degree, a "Republican Obama": wonky, politically astute, "post-racial," etc. Such talk has cooled dramatically, thanks in large part to his disastrous response to Obama's non-State of the Union address back in February. But that's not the only reason he's receded from view while Palin, Romney, and Huckabee continue to get talked up as presidential hopefuls.

Shortly before Obama's victory over McCain in the fall, I wrote

[W]hile there are plenty of 2012 GOP presidential aspirants who have reason to be unhappy with the McCain campaign's decisions over the last couple months (and, in particular, the Palin choice), a case could be made that no one's nearish-term prospects have been hurt more than Bobby Jindal's.

Though rarely explicit (and certainly not exclusive) a large portion of the GOP's closing argument this cycle has been to stoke white, working class fear and suspicion of the Other. The dark-skinned man with the foreign-sounding name may be a Muslim, or a socialist, or a friend of terrorists, or a racial huckster, or a fake U.S. citizen, or some other vague kind of "radical." You may never be sure which he is (maybe all of the above), but in your gut you simply don't "know" him the way you know the other candidates. This is not, to put it mildly, a message likely to benefit Bobby Jindal.

Now, yes, four years is a longer time in politics than it used to be. But I still don't see these toxins leaching out that quickly, particularly from a GOP that will, in all likelihood, continue trying to raise subliminal doubts about Obama's Americanness.

I took a lot of grief (most of it friendly) for this analysis. Ross Douthat and Daniel Larison both called it "completely wrong"; David Weigel opted for "exactly wrong." (TNR colleague Suzy Khimm was gentler in her dissent.) A common element of the critiques was the idea that, by winning the governorship of Louisiana, Jindal had already overcome his "Otherness." The problem is that it's not Jindal who needs to overcome anything; it's voters, in this case Republican voters, and their moods, like any, ebb and flow with the political tides.

Now, obviously it's still early days in the GOP's journey of post-November self-definition, and it may yet find a way to arrest its devolution into the Party of White Anger and Paranoia before 2012. But so far I think it's safe to say that the party's trajectory has not been a promising one--for Jindal, for the GOP, or for the nation generally.

--Christopher Orr