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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal carries several distinctions among the large group of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls. A child of Indian immigrants, he became a Rhodes Scholar, state health secretary at age 24, House member at 33, governor at 36. Now 43, he's the youngest—and arguably most conservative—potential candidate.
As he considers the race, Jindal sat down with me in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of our conversation.
1. Harwood: I read that your staff wants you to gain weight for the presidential campaign. Are you trying?
Jindal: I've got to remember to eat. The problem I've got is, I'll run through a day and a lot of time I get so busy I'll skip lunch. I've got a high metabolism, running after kids. If you keep doing this long term it's going to be bad for your body.
2. Harwood: Everything has gone at warp speed for you. Where does that drive come from?
Jindal: We all, I think, are shaped largely by our parents' experiences. It wasn't pressure as much as the example my parents set. A big part of the reason they wanted to come to America was so their kids could have opportunities. We do have a responsibility to do the best we can. For me personally, that involves giving back to the community.
3. Harwood: You've been very aggressive about issues of assimilation—no hyphenated Americans. Did you feel pressure to adopt an attitude like that to succeed as someone of Indian descent in Southern politics?
Jindal; Two things shaped by views. One was my parents. They were very adamant that we're raising you as Americans. English was always our language. We were fully integrated. I was raised as a normal kid. Secondly, as I was older and began to make my own decisions, it was fashionable to call America the great melting pot. In recent years there's been this politically correct idea that that's somehow culturally arrogant. The fear I've got is when you look at what's happening in Europe—when you look at second third generation immigrants who don't really consider themselves French or British or German, that's a dangerous thing. Part of getting beyond these divisions is to stop saying African-American, Indian-American, Asian-American. We're all Americans. The only colors that should matter are red, white and blue.
4. Harwood: You told then-Rep. Jim McCrery, when you were 24 years old, you wouldn't take the number two job in the biggest department of state government. That's some serious gumption. Why'd you have to have that job so fast?
Jindal: I was sitting in D.C. I read a story in The Washington Post that said the Louisiana health system was going bankrupt. I wrote a long paper saying here's how you fix it. My motivation all along was to get them to look at my ideas; it really didn't start as a request for a job. It was only once we started talking I realized I had a chance to make a big difference in my home state.
5. Harwood: What I hear from Republicans, friends of yours, is concern that you are tailoring who you are and what you say to what you think Republican base voters want you to be.
Jindal: The opposite is true. If you listen to Republican donors, pollsters and media experts, they'll tell you if you want to run for national office you need to change your views about marriage. A majority of the American people are moving in the other direction. But that's also a fundamental aspect of my faith. Maybe I'm not what they think a conservative should look like.
6. Harwood: You've got to be the only person in your Rhodes Scholar class who is against same sex marriage and will not say he believes in evolution.
Jindal; Oh sure. But when I was at Brown, I also helped restart the College Republicans. This is not a new thing for me. There's an arrogance that thinks that everybody that has an education must think a certain way. I criticized these so-called conservative health care leaders in D.C. that are saying well we really can't repeal all of Obamacare.
A lot of Republicans want the Republican Party to be cheaper Democrats. This country doesn't need two liberal parties. There are folks that would like to say, "Governor Jindal, you can't really be a smart guy if you think you can't raise taxes." It's not just the president, it's not just the liberal media, there are some folks in our party that as soon as they get to Washington they give up trying to fight for their principles. This country is hungry for leaders who are honest enough to tell us the truth. When I gave my speech in London, when I talked about the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, I was called a racist I was called anti-Muslim, neither of which is true.
7. Harwood: The concern about you was that you were saying things that were not true.
Jindal: Not at all. There are several folks who have documented there are absolutely neighborhoods where people are trying to impose Sharia law. There are neighborhoods where women feel uncomfortable coming in without veils. My point was to make a bigger point. Islam does have a problem.
8. Harwood: What do you say to people—Republicans—who say you haven't been a very good governor because you were so focused on your next job, and that's why you've got this massive budget deficit.
Jindal: We've cut the size of government 26 percent. Our economy has grown twice as fast as the national economy since I've been governor. We've got a fiscal challenge for next year because of the falling price of oil. The criticism you hear is, they've done so much reform people want to catch their breath.
9. Harwood: When you worked at the Bush Department of Health and Human Services, you guys expanded Medicare. Now you're saying Republicans lost their way, expanded government.
Jindal: Wait—I wasn't there when they expanded Medicare. I was for premium support. When they finally got around to adding prescription drugs without premium support, I thought that was a mistake.
10. Harwood: The State of the Union response in 2009—what happened?
Jindal: It was a pretty bad delivery. That was one of those times where I heard so many people— "you've got to talk like this," "'you've got to slow down." A great reminder—just throw all that stuff out the door, just be and talk how you normally do.