WASHINGTON — If you ask the governor of Connecticut, Democrat Dannel Malloy, who his party should fear in 2016, he'll give you the same answer, every time, with the same wry smile.
"I like to see your facial expression when I do that. Every reporter asks me, 'Who's going to be the toughest Republican candidate?'" Malloy told BuzzFeed News in an interview Tuesday. "And I'll look you straight in the eye and say Jindal and you all laugh."
Malloy, the incoming chair of the Democratic Governors Association, has made a habit of making fun of Jindal's presidential ambitions for more than a year now. Jindal ran the Republican Governors Association in 2013 when Malloy was a top target for the GOP. In 2014, Malloy was one of the few Democratic success stories on the gubernatorial campaign trail and, since winning reelection, he's often found occasion to try and get a rise out of the Louisiana governor who tried to unseat him.
"He must have been beaten up really bad on the playground. Really bad, I think," Malloy told BuzzFeed News when describing Jindal's demeanor and what he said was a similar sharp-elbowed persona on and off camera.
Team Jindal is used to Malloy's trolling attacks at this point.
"This is classic Malloy behavior, and it's hard to not feel bad for the guy," Gail Gitcho, senior adviser to Jindal's super PAC, told BuzzFeed News in an email. "He lashes out to distract from his terrible record as governor, and to avoid having to say anything about his own party's prospects this cycle. He's in a tough spot so his tantrum is not surprising."
Malloy's quick to point out the 2014 White House press conference where the spat with Jindal began. Both men met with the president as part of the annual National Governors Association meeting that brings governors from both parties to the White House. Afterwards, governors generally gather at what's called the "stakeout location" right outside the West Wing's doors to take questions from the press. During the Feb. 24, 2014 edition of this Washington ritual — which generally includes a lot of talk about all the places where governors and the president can agree, regardless of party — Jindal and Malloy got into a back-and-forth over partisanship, the KeystoneXL pipeline, and the minimum wage.
In video of the press conference, Malloy can be seen starting to pace and huff and puff as Jindal accuses President Obama of "waving the white flag of surrender" on bipartisanship with the White House focus on executive actions.
Malloy stepped to the mics and said, among other things, that Jindal's "white flag" remark was "the most insane comment I've ever heard, quite frankly."
Jindal took the bait. "If that was the most partisan statement he's heard all weekend, I want to make sure he's heard a more partisan statement, which is I think we could also grow the economy more if we would delay more of these Obamacare mandates…"
Ever since, Malloy has not passed up an opportunity to jab Jindal. In a February interview with Time, Malloy "muffled a laugh" as he called Jindal "the toughest one to beat in the Republican field."
In the BuzzFeed News interview, Malloy joked about another candidate benefiting from the moment Jindal releases the "one" delegate he wins in the GOP primary race.
The Connecticut governor has emerged as a top Democratic attack dog in recent years, a job that has put him at odds with several top Republicans. He seems to relish the role.
In 2013, he made a surprise visit to a Hartford restaurant Texas Gov. Rick Perry was using to convince Connecticut-based gun manufacturers to move their operations to the Lone Star State after Malloy signed gun control legislation into law. He addressed the reporters gathered outside and successfully got Perry to have a chat with him and a little back-and-forth about who had won more business for their home state. An aide posted a picture of the encounter on Twitter under the hashtag #YankeeHospitality.
Malloy has also repeatedly poked at Chris Christie and successfully gotten a rise out of him, too. Malloy and the New Jersey governor have battled back and forth repeatedly over the years on gun control, state employee pensions, and jobs. Christie once promised to steal Connecticut jobs after Malloy proposed a tax increase. Christie's professional reputation is that he's not a hard man to goad, and in a 2011 appearance on Morning Joe he actually began laughing aloud when Malloy's name was mentioned. (The fight at the time was over who did a better job forcing their public sector unions to accept concessions that would reduce the state's financial burden toward them.)
The fight between the two men began when Malloy, perhaps ironically, criticized Christie's rhetorical signature.
"Being bombastic for the sake of being bombastic," Malloy told the New York Times, "has just never been my take on the world."
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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