Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal slams Republican party changes to primary system

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
In this Oct. 29, 2014, file photo, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo: Timothy D. Easley/AP)

WASHINGTON – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday morning dismissed the Republican National Committee’s efforts to reduce the number of debates in the Republican presidential primary, and to shorten the primary process, calling the RNC’s changes “futile.”

Jindal also made clear he has no plans – if he runs for the nomination – to abide by the RNC’s attempt to keep candidates from participating in debates that are not sanctioned by the party committee.

“I know there is a lot of concern, especially in this town among Republican party leaders,” Jindal said. “There’s this ideal of theirs, this idealistic belief, that if we could just have fewer debates, if we could have a gentler, kinder nominating process, that would be good for the party and good for the nominee. Well you know what? Democracy is messy.”

“And the donors, the political leaders, the establishment, the pundits, they don’t get to pick our nominee,” Jindal said at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has made clear over the past two years that he believes the 2012 Republican primary was a mess, which dragged on for too long and allowed for too many debates, leading to constant intraparty fighting and exhausting the candidates. The RNC currently says it will sanction nine Republican debates, with an option to add three more.

The RNC has moved the nominating convention to the third week of July rather than the end of August, in a further bid to give the eventual nominee time to recover from what is expected to be a highly competitive primary and to access general election funds earlier. And party insiders at the 2012 convention also adopted a number of rules that make it easier for a well-funded, well-known candidate — the kind of man or woman acceptable to wealthy donors and political elites — to secure the nomination.

Jindal is the kind of likely 2016 candidate who is disadvantaged by the RNC’s changes. 

He does not have the sort of deep fundraising ties that Jeb Bush or Chris Christie do. He is lesser known, and debates represent his greatest opportunity to distinguish himself in a crowded GOP field. He is a two-term governor with a record that — while it contains plenty to attack him on — has significant accomplishments he can point to. He is the son of immigrants from India and has a compelling personal story as well as an impressive biography. And he is extremely well-versed in policy and an aggressive debater. 

The 43-year old governor said the RNC cannot stop Republican candidates from participating in more debates than the ones the party committee has sanctioned. He made clear that there are ways to get around the RNC’s threatened penalty, that if any candidate participates in a nonsanctioned debate, he or she will be barred from taking part in any of the other sanctioned events.

“I understand why they’re trying to do that. The reality is, you’re not going to stop, in a free society — nor should you — you’re not going to stop people … If the candidates want to do it, there are going to be forums, debates, whatever they call themselves,” Jindal said. “I think it’s almost a futile effort because the reality is … as long as there are that many candidates, there are going to be a number of different forums … People might come up with creative names. They might call them forums. They might call them discussions. They might call them whatever.”

Jindal also implied that the RNC is trying to keep the most conservative candidates from competing.

“Some of those that are wringing their hands about the nominating process, what they really mean — and they don’t say this outright — is, ‘Well we just need less conservative voters. We need less conservative candidates.’ And I think that’s nonsense,” Jindal said. “They don’t want somebody who’s too conservative and really wants to repeal Obamacare and all of its tax increases, who really wants to get rid of Common Core to win this nomination.”

Jindal warned of a “backlash” among Republican voters.

“I think if there is an attempt to try to clear the field or try to rig it for somebody or just try to advantage somebody that’s got more name ID or more money, I think the voters will respond to that. I think Republican voters don’t want to be told who to vote for. They want to decide for themselves,” he said.