Reflecting on his legacy, Gov. Bobby Jindal optimistic about Louisiana's future, no regrets about 'rocking the boat' _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Gov. Bobby Jindal talks about his tenure as governor in December 2015.

Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges, writing in Sunday’s paper, picked the perfect time to pose a burning question: What will former Gov. Bobby Jindal do next, now that he’s left office and dropped out of the presidential race?

The story appeared just as Jindal’s Plan B came crashing down, days after the presidential candidate he’d endorsed and hit the road to campaign for, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, lost his home state primary in humiliating fashion and joined Jindal in the also-ran category. So much for a possible high-level post in a Rubio administration.

Not that Jindal’s support for his former rival propelled him back to the A list before that. Rubio seemed much more interested in showcasing another young Southern Indian-American governor, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, as a surrogate. And other former presidential candidates who’ve made endorsements, from Chris Christie and Ben Carson for Donald Trump to Carly Fiorina for Ted Cruz, have assumed higher-profile roles as well.

Still, even as Jindal is reportedly taking his time and weighing his options, he’s also out there trying to remain part of the conversation.

Just as he did before and during his presidential run, Jindal’s still publishing opinion pieces in major publications and on high-profile websites and granting interviews on cable TV.

His main point these days is kind of muddled. Jindal has argued that the GOP establishment blew it and created the environment that led to Trump’s rise and also that President Barack Obama is the one to blame. While he once called the Republican front-runner shallow, full of bluster, devoid of substance and intellectual curiosity, narcissistic, hot-headed, insecure and weak, he said recently that he’d still support him if he becomes the party’s nominee.

But that’s almost beside the point. Like before, Jindal seems less concerned with persuading than with grabbing a piece of the nonstop coverage. It’s still about the messenger more than the message.

This drive to stay relevant nationally comes as Jindal’s become basically irrelevant back home in the state he governed for eight years. Or not irrelevant, exactly, but relevant in a bad way.

Jindal’s in-state approval rating has dipped as low as 20 percent. Legislative Republicans and Democrats alike blame him for the state’s budget crisis, and so do a majority of voters, according to a recent University of New Orleans poll.

Rubio appeared on the ballot in Louisiana’s recent presidential primary, but while Jindal campaigned on his behalf elsewhere, he didn’t here. That wasn’t by accident, according to New Orleans lawyer Rob Couhig, one of the Florida senator’s state co-chairs.

“I don’t think it would have helped Rubio at all,” Couhig said. “We’re on the record, so I’ll leave it at that.”

And Jindal’s troubles at home and out of state remain intrinsically connected. Word about the mess he left behind is long since out, and that’s gone a long way toward sullying his once-enviable image.

“The whiz is gone,” Bridges wrote, referring to Jindal’s onetime reputation as a whip-smart rising star, Louisiana’s very own Whiz Kid.

I’d add this: The “kid” part is gone, too.

Jindal’s not old, by any definition. At 44, he was the youngest hopeful in this year’s huge Republican field, even if Rubio and Cruz were close behind. But two decades after he made a big impression as the state’s baby-faced health and hospitals secretary, Jindal no longer gets credit for being precocious or promising. Other politicians around his age, people like Haley and House Speaker Paul Ryan, are still in the up-and-coming category, but Jindal up and came a long time ago now.

He’s still young, he’s still smart, and he’s still got a future. But now, he’s also got a past. And that changes everything.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.