One of the important functions that a party apparatus performs is to build its bench, shining a brighter light on candidates who might rise to prominence in future election cycles. Would Barack Obama have become the (presumptive) Democratic nominee if not for John Kerry giving him the keynote address at the 2004 convention? Very likely not.
As such, John McCain is smart to meet with Bobby Jindal at his ranch in Sedona this weekend, boosting Jindal’s name recognition and placing him on the same pedestal as better-known candidates like Mitt Romney and Charlie Crist. However, it is hard for me to believe that Jindal is under serious considerataion to be McCain’s running mate.
Part of the reason why, of course, is that Jindal would seem to take the ticket-balancing idea just a little too far, at least along the dimension of age. At 36, Jindal is literally half of McCain’s age, and he has been governor of Louisiana for all of four months. Precisely because of McCain’s age, there is likely to be a greater emphasis placed on the readiness of his running mate, and putting Jindal on the ticket would severerly constrain McCain’s ability to draw contrasts of experience against Barack Obama.
But the larger reason is that the GOP has bigger things to worry about than pleasing its conservative base. The Republicans enter this election with something like a 10-point disadvantage in party identification. Turning out their base will not be a sufficient strategy for them to win the election. Instead, McCain will need to win the clear majority of independents, or a goodly number of Democrats.
Jindal, however, has a strongly right-wing position on abortion, stating that he is against abortion 100 percent of the time without exception. (Jindal has since sought to clarify his position in the instance where the life of the mother is threatened; this is the subject of an edit war right now on Wikipedia). According to data compiled by PollingReport.com, only 15-20 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases, such as in cases of rape or incest. Jindal’s position would appear to be in that 15-20 percent, and is likely to scare the hell out of independent and moderate women in the suburbs. Without the “security mom” vote, McCain can’t win this election.
That is not to categorically rule out the idea of McCain nominating a strongly pro-life conservative. Someone like Mike Huckabee, for instance, has formidable political gifts and is certainly worth his consideration. But given the mood of the electorate, that is more in spite of his position on abortion than because of it.