‘Take Me To Church’ feat. Bobby Jindal
OK, there are 17 presidential candidates so I have no problem admitting I didn’t know too terribly much about Bobby Jindal when I went to his town-hall meeting at Simpson College in Indianola on Thursday. I knew that he’s the governor of Louisiana, that he’s really into balanced budgets, that he’s doing OK/decent in Iowa and that he’s a Christian. This event, more or less, was going to be my first impression of him.
But first, I need to tell you about the crowd because it plays a vital role. It was extremely Iowan; the majority of the folks were middle-aged or above and — watch out, big shocker here — white. Unlike when Rand Paul drew a few hundred Drake students to his event a couple weeks back, I only needed one hand to count the college students there to see Jindal. The chairs were in two sections, split by an aisle down the middle.
I sat down, watched Jindal get introduced and started listening to what he had to say. He told a little about himself, pledged for stronger border security, criticized Washington’s lack of a backbone. After sitting there for awhile, I realized something: I was sitting in the Church of Bobby.
The parallels were just so easy to draw. For starters, Jindal’s interaction with the audience was like that between a preacher and his congregation. His applause lines for bigger crowds were instead met with visible nods and audible agreement (“Mmhmm” or “Yeah!”), just like in some churches. In one instance, a woman even said “Amen!” Swear to God.
Jindal ran with it. He called for a “spiritual revival” to great applause. He referenced his Christianity. For me the epitome of it all was this: In the middle of his remarks, he said, “the idea of America is slipping away from us.” With the tone he used, he sounded awful close to a preacher warning us that too much sin could send us (America) to the other side of the grass.
Looking around the
congregation audience, I saw a familiarity previously seen at my own church back home. The older adults were listening to Jindal with rapt attention while the younger people gave their attention to whatever was on their smartphone screens. The room even looked and felt like the large meeting room where all the kids met in back when I went to church camp. If Jindal’s “Believe Again” backdrop had been removed to reveal a fully stocked communion table, I would’ve been surprised but not shocked. I thought there was a decent chance Jindal would pray at the end of the event, but I guess that’s where the line is drawn.
I really should have expected this tone. While Iowa is a swing state, many of its Republicans are of the Christian conservative variety. According to this article, nearly 40 percent of Republicans in Iowa call themselves “Christian conservatives.” That’s a hefty percentage, especially when you consider the last two caucus winners, Mike Huckabee (2008) and Rick Santorum (2012), both appeal to that electorate. Thirteen candidates showed up the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition dinner earlier this fall, where Donald Trump brought his Bible as if to verify his Christianity to the audience, and all of them knew that they need a piece of the Christian-conservative block if they want a shot on Feb. 1.
So was Jindal’s church service-like town hall planned that way? Probably not. But does the campaign have any problems with it? Doubtful. Jindal needs those voters, and I bet he’ll stick to that style to give Iowans something to relate to. It works.
The main problem for him is that he has to compete with the likes of Huckabee, Santorum, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson for a slice of the Christian-conservative pie. A good showing for Jindal on caucus night is a tough ask, but he’s certainly working hard for it, staying after his town hall to shake hands and converse — just like a preacher would after a service.
Cannon is a senior journalism and political science major from Kansas City. He interned this summer at the oldest continuously published newspaper in the U.S., the Hartford Courant, and he cares too much about the Kansas City Royals. Follow him on Twitter.