Gov. Bobby Jindal is stuck at 1 percent or less in almost every national poll. Everything he’s tried over the past year to woo Republicans in Iowa and elsewhere has flopped or been largely ignored. Indeed, Jindal’s chances of capturing the Republican nomination for president in 2016 appear to be the same as my hopes of winning a lifetime achievement award from the Louisiana Republican Party.
Then again, there’s always the possibility that his car might break down on the way to a candidate debate at the very moment a meteor strikes the auditorium and wipes out the GOP field. Alas for Jindal, according to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, the threat of a large meteor hitting the Earth any time soon is non-existent.
Oh, and he’s probably not going to be invited to the debate anyway.
So, what’s Jindal’s game? He knows as well as you and me that he won’t be the GOP nominee. So what’s he really aiming for? Running mate to the eventual nominee? A spot on a Fox News show? Leadership of a Washington think tank or advocacy group?
Whatever it is Jindal wants, it’s safe to say presidential campaigns – even some of the worst ones – are rarely harmful to the candidate’s bottom line.
Running for president clearly helps failed candidates gain some stature among a decent part of the populace who are impressed by this kind of thing. I, for example, would be quite impressed if you told me you played one season in Major League Baseball — even if you hit .155 and only started five games.
In that way, Jindal is in the big leagues, sort of – but he probably won’t last long and he’ll be lucky if he ever starts a game.
Beyond the stature of forever being known as “a former candidate for president,” there’s the general fame that comes with being a contender in our quadrennial presidential pageant. Even a losing candidate can earn significant name recognition. In 2012, then-U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former pizza magnate Herman Cain took turns at the top of the presidential polls before fading or, in Cain’s case, collapsing.
There are, of course, the exceptions that prove the rule: David Duke ran for president in 1992 and later found himself in a federal prison. And former U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ post-campaign life was embroiled in disgrace and a costly fight to stay out of federal prison.
That said, Bachmann, Cain and, now, Donald Trump have proven you don’t have to be a serious candidate for president to derive something lucrative from the process. In the United States, fame and whatever stature comes from competing for president is a form of currency – and the losing candidates have rarely failed to cash in after they’ve dropped out.
After he bombed in 2012, Cain briefly got his own national radio show and then became a Fox News contributor. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman didn’t fare so well in the GOP primaries, but he landed on his feet and now serves as chair of a prestigious foreign affairs think tank, the Atlantic Council.
Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum – running again for president this year – won several contests, including the Iowa caucuses, before bowing out in 2012. Between then and now, however, Santorum formed his own nonprofit organization, Patriot Voices, and became chairman and CEO of Echolight Studios, a faith and family film studio and movie distributor.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also took his turn in 2012 as leader of the Republican presidential pack. After he dropped out, Gingrich went back to book publishing (he has written or co-written more than 20 books since 1982), became the co-host of the short-lived CNN show Crossfire in 2013 and now runs his own movie company, Gingrich Productions.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is running again this year, won the Iowa caucuses in 2008. He parlayed that into a lucrative gig as the host of his own Fox News show (which he gave up to run again for the White House).
And don’t forget that running for president often puts losing candidates in demand as paid speakers. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who earned $11 million in speaking fees in 2014 and early 2015 (being a former secretary of state didn’t hurt her fees, either). Gingrich charges upwards of $70,000 per speech, while Huckabee earns as much as $50,000; Santorum, about $25,000 a speech.
Even someone you’ve never heard of, like Gary Bauer, turned running for president into a lucrative business. Bauer, a former mid-level Republican White House aide, ran the American Family Council from 1988 to 1999. He resigned that job to run, briefly, for president, but dropped out of the race in February 2000 after he received 8 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus.
Of course, Bauer landed on his feet and quickly parlayed his brief brush with presidential possibility into a network of nonprofits that have made him and his wife quite wealthy. Ostensibly the head of a tax-exempt organization called American Values, Bauer has hired himself to consult for various other political committees he has created. He’s doing very well, thank you.
So, back to Bobby Jindal? What will happen to him once his presidential hopes end sometime after the Iowa caucuses or the South Carolina primary?
Two things, however, we know for sure: Jindal’s long-term future does not involve living in or near Louisiana.
And he will make a very good living.