Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal isn’t ready to declare he is running for president, but that hasn’t stopped him from declaring one of his likely rivals unfit for the job — launching the sort of stinging attack that’s usually reserved for the latter days of the campaign.
Expect it to be the norm as analysts say the 20 or so Republicans planning presidential bids are going to resort to those kinds of attacks as they try to carve out space within the crowded field, and try to win attention from primary voters by trying to knock front-running candidates off the top of the hill.
Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment — “thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican” — will be put to the test as the clawing commences and the field continues to grow. New York Gov. George Pataki jumping into the race on Thursday.
“The big problem is how do you differentiate yourself from the field, and the best way to do that is to pick a fight,” said Ted Jackson, a Kentucky-based GOP consultant. “They are going to have to take it to each other. It is going to be potentially wild.”
Part of the incentive is that sharp barbs win free media coverage, which is an easy way for candidates without much money to try to compete for attention.
This go-round the competition could get uglier early than usual thanks to the size of the field and the announcements from Fox News and CNN that the first two GOP sanctioned debates will be cut off at the top ten candidates based on an average of polls.
“My guess is that it gets nasty quicker this time because there are so many candidates and everyone is trying to nudge someone out,” said Roy Fletcher, a Louisiana-based GOP strategist, adding that Mr. Jindal is clearly running for president. “You have two choices: either you mix it up or you buy it up.”
It was a different story in the early months of the 2012 campaign, where the field never surpassed ten candidates, and the candidates generally treated each other gently in the opening months of the campaign.
But the 2016 field is already at eight announced candidates with former Sen. Rick Santorum entering on Wednesday, a day before Mr. Pataki.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry are expected to announce their own bids next week.
Still to come are expected campaigns from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; businessman Donald Trump; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Mr. Jindal.
Rep. Peter King of New York, former Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich of Maryland also have expressed interest in running.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed a five way tie for first place between Mr. Bush, Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mr. Walker.
Sen. Rand Paul trails them, while Mr. Jindal himself is statistically tied for last.
On Wednesday, Mr. Jindal blasted Mr. Paul for accusing “hawks” within the GOP for pushing an adventurous foreign policies that helped the Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS, expand its terrorist reach.
“This is a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be commander in chief,” Mr. Jindal said. “We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position.”
On Thursday, Mr. Jindal continued to pile on the criticism, telling CNN, “It is ridiculous to blame America first, to blame Americans for the fact that ISIS exists.”
His presidential exploratory committee also repeated the attack against Mr. Paul in fundraising email.
Analysts said Mr. Jindal was trying to gain attention by being outspoken.
“Jindal needs to win traction in the polls and this is a beyond safe way to do it,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “He is a wonk that no one seems to want to listen to and this is the best way for him to grab attention — particularly on an issue that Republican primary voters care strongly about.”
Craig Shirley, a Reagan biographer, said Mr. Jindal’s comments came “awfully close” to trampling on Reagan’s 11th Commandment.
“Whether someone is suited to be president is a judgment more by the American people and the Constitution and less by a motivated and interested competitor,” Mr. Shirley said. “If he was not running for the same office, Jindal’s comments about Paul would be more legitimate.”