The political press gets a lot of well-deserved ribbing for its premature horse-race handicapping of far-off presidential elections. But let's face it: Politicians are willing, even eager, participants in the game. How else to explain Bobby Jindal's (R-La.) pointed criticism of President Obama, on camera, on the White House grounds, after a National Governors Association meeting with Obama that, by all accounts, had been polite and relatively apolitical.
Stepping to the microphone, Jindal — vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association — said Obama "seems to be waving the white flag of surrender" by focusing on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, adding for good measure the sound-bitey line: "The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy."
As Zeke J. Miller at TIME points out, that partisan sniping at the president "in the shadow of the West Wing" is "in defiance of established bipartisan protocol." Indeed, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) stepped up to the microphone right away to call Jindal on his lack of decorum and "insane" statements. Watch:
Jindal's "break from protocol," Miller adds helpfully, "is a signal to the GOP base that Jindal, a 2016 hopeful, is willing to take a forceful stand against the president." And why not? Jindal's second term as governor ends at the beginning of 2016, and term limits are preventing him from going for three.
In fact, the governor isn't even being particularly coy about 2016. Instead of issuing the standard denial about presidential ambitions and insistence that he's just focused doing his job for his constituents, Jindal told reporters, "My honest answer is I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 2016."
This isn't the first time Jindal has been sized up as presidential material. In 2009, the Indian-American former Rhodes Scholar who'd been governor just a year was handed the plum assignment of giving the official response to Obama's first State of the Union address. It didn't go well, cementing Jindal not as a rising GOP star but a doppelgänger of Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock:
The Kenneth comparison isn't a deal-breaker, but Jindal also has to contend with dour poll numbers at home. A new survey by Democratic pollster PPP recorded Jindal's approval number at 35 percent; even Jindal's internal polls show his approval at only 50 percent. More worrisome for Jindal, in the few 2016 presidential polls that include him, he tops out at 5 percent; his RealClearPolitics average is 3.7 percent, putting him in last place.
Again, at this early stage, anything is possible in 2016. Few people had Barack Obama at the top of their most-likely-to-succeed lists two and a half years from the 2008 election. If Jindal wants to grab the attention of the primary-voting Republican base, attacking Obama right outside his house is an obvious way to go about it. And it's hard to figure out what else Jindal's performance means other than a strong signal that he's in for 2016.
If you're sick of hearing about potential 2016 frontrunners, though, Obama probably has you beat. With almost three years left in his term, it's probably pretty annoying that so much energy is spent trying to read tea leaves about who the next man (or woman) will be. He good-naturedly chided the governors, telling them at the meeting that he "enjoyed watching some of you with your eyes on higher office size up the drapes, and each other."
If Obama can enjoy it, great. He'd better at least get used to it.