If something bad happens, anywhere in the world, chances are pretty good that some creative Republicans will come up with a way to blame those developments on President Obama. It’s a skill the GOP has honed over the last seven years, and the party has become quite adept in this area.
Naturally, then, it was sadly predictable that Republicans would even manage to blame Donald Trump’s rise on the rascally Democratic president. Obama, we’re now supposed to believe, is even responsible for the attitudes Republican primary and caucus voters have towards their own party’s candidates.
The argument has been slowly percolating in GOP media circles in recent weeks, touted by the New York Times’ Ross Douthat and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, among others. Blaming the radicalization of Republican politics is hard; blaming the president they hold in contempt is easy; so many on the right are naturally gravitating towards the latter.
But leave it to Bobby Jindal – a failed presidential candidate, a prominent Marco Rubio supporter, and one of the worst and least effective governors in modern American history – to write an op-ed taking the argument to its silliest conclusion.
Let’s be honest: There would be no Donald Trump, dominating the political scene today if it were not for President Obama.I believe that voters tend to act in open-seat presidential elections to correct for the perceived deficiencies of the incumbent…. After seven years of the cool, weak and endlessly nuanced “no drama Obama,” voters are looking for a strong leader who speaks in short, declarative sentences.
At a certain level, picking on Bobby Jindal almost seems cruel. The man’s failures were so humiliating, his governing agenda bombed so catastrophically, his electoral defeats were so crushing, that he’s probably better left ignored – except to serve as a model to others as how not to be a competent public official.
But this notion that Obama must be blamed for Trump will probably linger for a while, so Jindal’s debacles notwithstanding, let’s go ahead and note the most glaring flaws in the former governor’s argument.
There’s some truth to the idea that voters, after eight years of one president, tend to look to a very different kind of leader. With this in mind, in the broadest possible sense, it’s best not to dismiss Jindal’s framing out of hand: Obama and Trump are, in fact, opposites.
Where the president is mature, Trump is a buffoon. Where Obama is smart and knowledgeable, Trump is careless and ignorant. Where the president is honest; Trump deceives. Where Obama appeals to the public’s intellect and the better angels of our nature, Trump’s candidacy is built on an ugly foundation of resentment and division.
But Jindal’s thesis nevertheless falls short on two points. The first is that the right-wing Republican is convinced that the president “created the very rancor he now rails against.” For Jindal, it wasn’t Republican extremism, or GOP officials’ refusal to cooperate or compromise with the president on any issue that created a toxic political climate, it was the president’s partisan and ideological agenda.
By any objective measure, those who’ve been conscious for the last seven years probably recognize Jindal’s observation as delusional.
The second, and perhaps more important, flaw in the Louisianan’s argument is what it expects of Democratic voters. As Jon Chait joked, “This is your fault, Democrats. If you had elected a red-faced, racist bullying lout as president, then Republicans would be reacting today by rallying around somebody who’s intellectual, humble, and non-abusive, and we’d all be in fine shape. But nooooooo. You had to nominate a wonkish, emotionally controlled law professor, forcing Republicans to turn to an unhinged racist reality-television star in response.”
Sure, GOP voters could be more responsible, but as Jindal sees it, they have no real choice – historical models must be honored, even unconsciously, and if Democrats chose a mature and capable leader, Republicans are instinctively obligated to rally behind a childish fool.
With wisdom like this, is it any wonder Jindal’s approval rating in his Deep South red state reached a cringe-worthy 27%?