Jindal insists he is ignoring all the speculation. In Cedar Rapids, at a breakfast event devoted to addressing this beleaguered city’s efforts to rebound from its disastrous flood last summer, he avoided any reference to 2012, staying focused on explaining Louisiana’s methods for coping with hurricane floods in emergencies on his watch.
Meanwhile, others around the country were talking him up. No less an aspiring kingmaker than Steve Schmidt, the chief strategist of McCain’s failed presidential bid, sees Jindal as the Republican Party’s destiny. “The question is not whether he’ll be president, but when he’ll be president, because he will be elected someday.” The anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist believes, too, that Jindal is a certainty to occupy the White House, and conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh has described him as “the next Ronald Reagan.”
Jindal is his own invention, in the mold of an Obama. Born in Louisiana as Piyush Jindal to highly educated immigrants from India, he decided as a young child to nickname himself “Bobby,” after his favorite character on the TV show “The Brady Bunch.” Raised as a Hindu, he converted to Catholicism while in college and later wrote a lengthy, intimate story that provided a window on his religious evolution, in a manner that fairly calls to mind Obama’s books about his own grappling with issues of self-identity. Success at Brown University and later at Oxford University during his Rhodes years led to high-profile attention in the power corridors of Louisiana and Washington.
The Louisiana governor at the time, Murphy J. “Mike” Foster Jr., turned to a 25-year-old Jindal to shore up Louisiana’s Medicaid program, which had fallen badly into debt. By the time Jindal finished, he had shut down some state hospitals and had the program running a surplus. “He had to close a hospital in my district, but he didn’t hesitate doing what he had to do,” remembers former Louisiana state senator Tony Perkins, now the leader of the Family Research Council. “He always knows what he wants to get done.”