If politicians can be Too Dumb to Fail, then it stands to reason that they can also be too smart to win. Consider the case of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who announced he was dropping his presidential bid yesterday.
On paper, Jindal’s accomplishments and credentials were almost unparalleled. Yet, his campaign floundered. The narrative will be that this was a year of crazy outsiders, and the wonky Rhodes scholar—fond of issuing policy white papers—was simply out of touch with the zeitgeist.
Despite whatever explanation the revisionists spin to explain Jindal’s exodus (and the failure of other governors like Walker and Perry), you can’t blame the rise of Trump or Carson for Jindal’s decision to run away from his strengths as an experienced policy expert. He might have been issuing detailed policy papers, but—on the campaign trail and debate stage—his rhetoric leaned more toward lowbrow pandering than toward elevated conversation.
This goes back years. Referring to a particularly vapid 2013 article penned by Jindal, in which he criticized “bedwetting” introspection (“excessive navel gazing leads to paralysis”), Slate’s Dave Weigel observed, “Jindal’s rep[utation] is as a wunderkind who was put in charge of Louisiana’s hospital system at age 28. To be competitive in the Iowa caucuses, he needs to either pretend to be a schmuck or emphasize his heretofore-concealed schmucky tendencies.”
Weigel wasn’t the only one who noticed. “Jindal isn’t talking to independents or Democrats in this op‑ed. This is solely about telling Republicans what they want to hear,” wrote Ezra Klein in the Washington Post. “That’s how the GOP becomes the stupid party: Republican Party elites like Jindal convince Republican Party activists of things that aren’t true. And that’s how the GOP becomes the losing party: The activists push the Republican Party to choose candidate decisions and campaign strategies based on those untruths, and they collapse in the light of day.”
Jindal recently said: “There is a tendency among the Left and some Republicans that say you can either be conservative or smart.” He was absolutely right. But instead of fighting this trend, Jindal decided to embrace it. In order to try to win the Republican nomination, he decided to play dumb. It felt inauthentic and (compared to Trump and Carson) inadequate.
The danger of a Too Dumb to Fail mentality isn’t simply that it elevates the populist demagogues who like to hurl red meat—it’s also that it forces otherwise smart conservatives to choose between playing dumb or going home. And, in the case of Jindal, he did both.