Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal blasts Donald Trump at the National Press Club in Washington. (Photo: Molly Riley/AP)
A senior Democratic political operative told me this week that he thought Jeb Bush’s strategy toward Donald Trump was all wrong.
Bush, like some others including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has been attacking Trump from the right, hitting him over his past positions on taxes, health care and other issues important to the conservative base.
Bush’s approach should be simpler, more straightforward, the Democrat said. Why doesn’t he just call Trump crazy and ridiculous — attacking him in his own terms and with the same directness that Trump employs?
An hour later, I ran into a Republican operative who said he was equally confused by Bush’s strategy and agreed with the Democrat that Bush was taking the wrong approach.
Well, Bush wasn’t listening, but maybe somebody else was. On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took that playbook and ran with it, going straight at Trump in personal terms that put questions of maturity and judgment ahead of party or ideological orthodoxy.
“He’s a nonserious carnival act,” Jindal said in a speech at the National Press Club. “Here’s the truth about Trump that we all know, but have been afraid to say. Donald Trump is shallow. Has no understanding of policy. He’s full of bluster but has no substance. He lacks the intellectual curiosity to even learn.”
Jindal, who has been stuck at the back of a 17-candidate primary field, called Trump a “narcissist and an egomaniac” who is “insecure and weak.”
“And that’s why he is constantly telling us how big and how rich and how great he is, and how insignificant everyone else is. We’ve all met people like Trump, and we know that only a very weak and small person needs to constantly tell us how strong and powerful he is,” Jindal said.
Jindal’s most ad hominem attack on Trump came in an interview with CBS News, when he mocked Trump’s personal appearance in response to a question about Trump ridiculing former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who is also running for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” Trump said recently to a Rolling Stone reporter while watching Fiorina on television.
Jindal pounced. “I think it’s pretty outrageous for him to be attacking anybody’s appearance when he looks like he’s got a squirrel sitting on his head. I think he should stop attacking other people’s appearances,” Jindal told CBS.
Donald Trump speaks at a press conference in New York City. (Photo: Dennis Van Tine/Star Max/IPx/AP)
In his speech, Jindal did echo the criticisms of Trump as a false conservative — though that wasn’t his main thrust — and threw in an accusation of being a phony Christian.
“He hasn’t ever read the Bible. But you know why he hasn’t read the Bible? Because he’s not in it,” Jindal gibed.
But Jindal’s speech used substantive debating points in service of a larger argument: that Trump is (to use one of his own favorite putdowns) a joke, and that he will hand the election to Hillary Clinton if Republicans nominate him.
Jindal spokesman Henry Goodwin crystallized it well on Twitter.
“Others have attacked him for conservative heresy. We’re attacking him for being a clown,” Goodwin wrote.
There is some irony in the fact that Jindal is making this argument. He has “not exactly been a paragon of seriousness” himself, as the Democrat put it. The 44-year-old Rhodes scholar’s appeals to the conservative grassroots have spawned countless “What happened to Bobby Jindal” pieces as well as rebukes from conservative writers such as Peter Wehner and Matt Lewis, who have taken him to task for playing “pitchfork populist” by, for example, pressing for Republicans to shut down the government over President Obama’s executive order on immigration.
But Jindal and his advisers were aghast at Trump’s continued success, said adviser Tim Teepell.
“We were increasingly frustrated that nobody else was saying it,” Teepell said.
Jindal is just the latest to step into the ring with Trump, making a bid to be the giant-killer following Perry, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and even recently retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. But he is the first to go after Trump in this way.
Jindal’s campaign followed up his speech with a witty video mashup of all the people and things Trump has said he loves, from children to Iowa to Hispanics to the Bible to Kanye West and walls. They mocked him by adding a clip from the Will Ferrell movie “Anchorman,” from the scene in which a dimwitted weatherman played by Steve Carell says, without any sense of why he is doing so, “I love lamp.”
The implication is that Trump is both dimwitted and that his words are meaningless.
Perhaps the next candidate to try this move could use a clip from the film “Idiocracy,” in which a greeter at Costco has been told to welcome customers by flattering their emotions to put them in the mood to spend money. “Welcome to Costco. I love you,” the young man says over and over, staring off into space — taking a statement of the most profound emotion and debasing it by using it to sell groceries.
The presidency ain’t groceries, but that would be a more direct critique of Trump’s overuse of the word “love.”