Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's announcement on Wednesday morning that he has a proposed replacement for Obamacare has one aim: putting him into the running for "The Policy Expert" role in the 2016 season of the show Republicans Battle. As Jindal knows, he's not who the director has been eyeing for the role, but most of the other roles are filled.
The idea of "roles" in a presidential campaign seems superficial and dumb. But it is a very real phenomenon, that might be better understood as "brands." (Oy, this culture of ours.) Political campaigns have very limited opportunities to present themselves to voters, just as companies have limited opportunities to present themselves to customers. So both develop shorthands. Campaign slogans, taglines. Something that helps them stand out.
Jindal's Obamacare replacement plan, as The Washington Post's Robert Costa reports, "sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes." The Post Twitter account cuts to the chase: "Jindal to release sweeping health care plan today to position self as 2016 race's wonk." While reducing policy efforts to the politics behind them is a dangerous path, it's hard not to find it warranted here.
So here, inspired by Costa, are the available roles in the 2016 primary, and who is leading in the race to fill each.
The Policy WonkThe frontrunner: Rep. Paul Ryan
Those who'd like to be considered: Bobby Jindal
Played in Season 2012 by: Newt Gingrich
Jindal's policy proposal, touted in an opinion piece at Fox News, is called, "The Freedom and Empowerment Plan, The Prescription for Conservative Consumer-Focused Health Reform." (Prescription, do you get it.) It is meant to sit on desks and have chins rubbed above it, to reinforce Jindal's health policy background and have Republican voters/casting directors think, Oh, that Jindal guy, he has thoughtful ideas. Jindal's problem is that maybe/probably 2016 candidate Paul Ryan has been working on that shtick for years. Want to see Ryan's wonk polish evolve? Here ya go. Jindal's bet appears to be that Ryan won't actually audition.
The Good KidThe frontrunner: Jeb Bush
Those who'd like to be considered: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman
Played in Season 2012 by: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman
There has never been a better "Good Kid" than Mitt Romney. It comes in different flavors: there's the Eddie Haskell version, played by Chris Christie, and the Marnie-from-Girls version, exemplified by Marco Rubio. But Romney's personal rectitude and down-your-nose scoldiness really set him apart.
The real way to think about this role is that it's the establishment candidate, the by-the-book "Republican" Republican. The guy who wants you to know that he'll do the right thing. And it's the role that Republicans hope will be the one that lures independents and, Hell, maybe Democrats to vote red in 2016. Nothing crazy, just a straightforward guy, doing his best.
Why's Bush in the lead? Because Christie's had a bad 2014, and Rubio's eagerness to be liked is showing through the veneer. And because no one has heard of "Rob Portman."
The WarmongerThe frontrunner: Still casting
Those who'd like to be considered: Scott Walker, Chris Christie
Played in Season 2012 by: Rick Perry
This was a classic Republican role, the most popular character for season after season after season. And then they cast George W. Bush, who was not popular with audiences. John McCain seemed like a natural for the role in 2008, but he wanted the role of "Good Kid." Oh well.
With most of the other roles filled, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thinks maybe he could fit this one. His pitch to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday made the case pretty explicitly. And, during his tenure, Wisconsin has not been invaded by Canada.
Christie made a similar pitch, but he'd really like to be the Good Kid, and everyone knows it.
The Fiery LibertarianThe frontrunner: Sen. Rand Paul
Those who'd like to be considered: No one else
Played in Season 2012 by: Ron Paul
The Fiery Libertarian character was new in season 2008, and no one really thought it would catch on. But like The Simpsons' Poochie, the kids loved it. His combination of social liberalism and anger about arcane economic systems was a surprise hit.
Can The Fiery Libertarian help boost November ratings? Remains very much to be seen.
The PreacherThe frontrunner: Mike Huckabee
Those who'd like to be considered: Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal
Played in Season 2012 by: Rick Santorum
Another long-time favorite that appears to be on the rebound after a lull in recent years. Mike Huckabee was a surprise hit as the party's religious voice in 2008; Rick Santorum did the same in 2012. That both have experience in the role could make casting difficult. By which I mean: the religious base that has historically voted actively in Republican primaries could split between the two should both actually end up running.
The RebelThe frontrunner: Sen. Ted Cruz
Those who'd like to be considered: Who knows
Played in Season 2012 by: Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann
Ah, the rebel. 2012 was certainly the high-water mark for rebels running for president. With the GOP still split between the establishment and the Tea Party, but with the power of latter waning, it will be interesting to see how the role develops as 2016 approaches. So far, Cruz seems like a lock to be the outsider candidate, but he's also not doing very well in the polls against the competition.
But you don't really campaign for rebel anyway. You stand on the stage with the other people and growl at them and at the questioner and at the whole damn system, man. You don't have to be a great actor, but the ladies still swoon. We'll see. Should be a great season.