August did not begin well for Gov. Bobby Jindal. His school voucher program was exposed as a meal ticket for two-bit hustlers operating fly-by-night "academies" just as he was hoping to establish his bona fides as a potential vice president. Then Mitt Romney tapped 42-year-old U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.
That Ryan is less than 16 months older than Jindal only made things worse. Henceforth, the Wisconsin congressman, not Jindal, will be seen as the rising star in the GOP constellation. (Contrary to what his flacks and sycophants had been spinning, Jindal apparently wasn't even on Romney's "short list" of potential veeps, as evidenced by the Associated Press report that he did not get a heads-up call when Romney made his decision to go with Ryan.)
Truth is, at age 41, time is still on Jindal's side. He has plenty of options in the next few years — and plenty of opportunities to go national.
In the short run, there's always the possibility of a job in Washington if Romney wins. Oh sure, Jindal pooh-poohed that notion right after Ryan got the nod, but what else could he say? You don't campaign for a Cabinet post; you're not even supposed to appear too interested in one at this stage. You merely do what you can to help your party win the White House, and then you wait for the phone to ring.
In Jindal's case, that means continuing to traverse the country, cranking out press releases and talking points, currying favor with the evangelicals and conservative media ... and then waiting for the phone to ring.
If the phone does ring, it surely won't presage an offer for the Department of Education. Jindal's voucher debacle guaranteed that. (I don't oppose vouchers per se, but I do have a problem with Jindal recklessly rushing through a voucher program with virtually no safeguards or standards, which allowed educational charlatans to tap into it to the tune of millions.)
If he plays his cards right, however, Jindal could be in line for something like the Department of Health and Human Services. His ideological opposition to expanding Medicaid perfectly mirrors the current GOP mindset (and Romney/Ryan's as well), and his record on health care issues goes back almost 20 years.
And if he does not get invited to join Team Romney, or if Romney loses in November, Jindal has still other options. He could run for the U.S. Senate against Mary Landrieu in 2014 (though that would be no cakewalk), or he could run for David Vitter's seat if the state's junior U.S. Senator wins the 2015 governor's race. (Vitter is clearly preparing to run.)
Jindal also could finish out his term, go into the private sector, and lay the groundwork for a future presidential run. Jindal will be 44 when his current term expires; Ronald Reagan was 69 when he won the presidency.
Meanwhile, Jindal will continue to shape Louisiana's political landscape.
If, for example, he leaves office before his term ends, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne will become governor. Dardenne is seen as a potential candidate in 2015 anyway, but his chances of holding the job as a half-term incumbent are exponentially better than his chances of winning it as lieutenant governor against an open field, particularly if, as expected, Vitter runs.
Jindal and Dardenne are not exactly pals, but the governor and Vitter are practically enemies. If Jindal does go to Washington before 2016, Gov. Dardenne could be his parting shot at Vitter, who has gone out of his way to criticize Jindal.
As dimly as August began for him, Jindal's future still looks bright.