Bobby Jindal looks like a solid 2016 contender to me

It has long been clear that you need to get up very early in the morning to beat Scott Johnson to a story. Now it appears that you need to get up even earlier to scoop Scott’s daughter Eliana.

Today, Bobby Jindal delivered an address on energy policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. I attended not as much to hear about energy policy as to figure out what I think about Jindal as a presidential possibility.

But when I surfed the internet as we waited for Jindal’s talk, I found that Eliana, in anticipation of the address, had already assessed Jindal’s presidential prospects. Her post went up at 4:00 a.m. this morning.

Eliana called her piece “Jindal’s Gamble.” The gamble is that a “wonk” can win the Republican presidential nomination.

My view is that a policy wonk can, indeed, be the GOP nominee. Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination as a wonk in 1992. I doubt that today’s Republican voters are less interested in policy or less impressed by the mastery of it than Dems were back then.

Clinton, however, was also a masterful politician. The real question, it seems to me, is whether Jindal has what it takes as a politician.

His address to the Heritage Foundation left me thinking he very well might. Jindal is an impressive public speaker. Today, he spoke without relying on notes except when he cited statistics or ticked off agenda items. He presents forcefully but without sounding strident. My one criticism is that he delivers a little too rapidly. If he runs for president, Jindal will need to slow it down on the campaign trail.

The question and answer session, which included questions about foreign policy and education, offered a good opportunity to observe Jindal in a less wonkish mode. He proved capable of delivering standard Republican talking points effectively. He also displayed a pretty good sense of humor, though little folksiness. And he proved adroit in answering questions from liberals in the audience.

A potential candidate’s nomination prospects can’t fully be evaluated in a vacuum. They always depend on the rest of the field. Few would have thought in 2007 that the Republicans were likely to nominate John McCain.

It’s earlier days yet, but the likely 2016 Republican field appears to provide space for Jindal. Rand Paul and Chris Christie would both be unacceptable to a large chunk of the Party.

Marco Rubio, more charismatic than Jindal and plenty smart though not conspicuously wonkish, would be burdened by his push for “comprehensive immigration reform.” Paul Ryan, as wonkish as Jindal and maybe deeper, would also be burdened by his flirtation with the left on immigration reform and on matters of “social justice” in general.

Ted Cruz might have an edge with many of the voters to whom Jindal would appeal to the most. But Cruz is a lightening rod and may suffer (or prosper) for that reason.

Cruz is a relative newcomer to politics whose biggest claim to fame is the partial government shutdown. Jindal is a seasoned conservative governor. For me, this gives Jindal an edge over Cruz, though not necessarily over other governors and former governors who might enter the race. Scott Walker comes most prominently to mind.

It helps considerably if a presidential contender has a signature issue. For Jindal, that issue might well be energy policy — the topic of today’s address.

I consider it scandalous that under President Obama, the U.S. has failed to take advantage of our energy resources and technologies. Doing so would create millions of jobs for Americans, provide a massive advantage to our manufacturers, and significantly reduce our dependence on foreign suppliers. This issue should be a winner for Republicans.

Jindal has fought the Obama administration on a wide range of energy issues. As befits a wonk, his mastery of these issues seems complete. You can read Jindal’s energy plan at the AmericaNext website.

If Jindal runs for president, he will need to impress both as a wonk and as a traditional politician. Today, he seemed capable of this. But the trick will be to know when to come across as the one and when to come across as the other.

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