The moment Bobby Jindal took the stage at the NRA Leadership Forum in Nashville last April, he came out swinging against Hillary Clinton. “I think all of us,” he said, “are what Hillary Clinton once called the vast right wing conspiracy.” He paused, relishing the crowd’s enthusiastic response. “Now, she was wrong about the conspiracy part, but you know what? She wasn’t really wrong about that “vast” part. This is a pretty vast group. We’re going to show her exactly how vast we are next year.”

The GOP may or may not mobilize the vast conservative coalition Jindal described this coming year, but one Republican group is indeed vast: the growing swarm of presidential candidates. When Jindal gave his speech to the NRA in April, only Ted Cruz and Rand Paul had officially entered the race. Two months later, the field has broadened to include a staggering twelve declared candidates, with three heavy-hitters (Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich) forming exploratory committees.

Now Jindal has entered the fray. One would initially think Jindal might be a real challenger. He’s young, charismatic, very conservative, and knowledgeable about policy issues. But this is not enough. Jindal has no base. The Koch brothers and their network are backing Walker. Libertarians have Paul, religious conservatives Huckabee and Santorum, moderates Bush, and Tea Partiers Carson, Fiorina, and Cruz. No one’s left. Polls confirm this; the latest, from NBC, has Bobby Jindal in last place with 0%. Jeb has 22%. Even Ben Carson, who’s never held elected office before, is in the teens.

In another candidate this lack of a base might encourage a bold campaign, focused on new ideas and real solutions. Not so with Bobby Jindal. He’s gone so far as to defend the reprehensible anti-gay laws passed in Indiana and Arkansas in Wall Street Journal op-eds. And, in a moment of unprecedented cultural change across the South, Jindal has declared that the Confederate flag is a states’ issue. All of this shows a decided lack of imagination and courage. Jindal is a wonk. He was a Rhodes scholar and university president. In one interesting moment of his otherwise predictable announcement, he described himself as an “intellectual,” a dangerous word in the modern GOP. If Jindal really considers himself an ideas man, he should stop pandering to the worst elements of the Republican party and start talking about what he knows best: innovative policy. In a field this big, however, it’s unlikely Jindal will find the courage to do so. His lack of imagination may doom his campaign.

So why should Bobby even bother? Because it’s now or never. Term-limited in 2015, (Louisiana holds elections in off-years) Jindal must run for president before he is out of office for too long. To remain a player within the national Republican Party, Jindal must take this last chance to elevate his profile.

He’s played this game before. As a top aide to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Jindal lost a close gubernatorial election to Democrat Kathleen Bianco in 2003. The defeat didn’t faze him then; the loss raised his statewide profile and made his successful 2007 bid that much easier. Bobby’s only way to stay relevant is to join the vast group running.

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