While we’re not saying that political analyst Elliott Stonecipher is wrong about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s immediate future in politics, we’d also say that the best information on the governor’s future plans is what the governor himself says.
Stonecipher speculated at the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the governor would accept a Cabinet post if Republican Mitt Romney is elected next month.
The governor said he’s not going to do that. “I consider being the governor of Louisiana to be more important and the best job there is,” according to his statement.
Case closed? Not entirely.
Stonecipher reflects conventional wisdom at the State Capitol that the governor puts national advancement at the top of the priority list. And while we agree that Jindal’s policies have been skewed to national audiences to the detriment of Louisiana in a number of cases over the last few years, there is reason to take Jindal at his word on the current political outlook.
Why? First of all, it’s all dependent on whether Romney is elected.
Second, does a Cabinet position give Jindal scope to “run for president” the way Stonecipher expects?
National ambitions are rarely advanced by running the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Jindal worked in the department during the administration of President George W. Bush, so he’d be a natural fit for that in a Romney administration. He also served as staff for a presidential commission that worked on health care policy.
As Louisiana is an energy-producing state, there might be some speculation about Jindal as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. And almost no one in their right mind wants to run the U.S. Department of Energy.
In whatever position, the governor is associated with the success or failure of the administration in which he serves. That’s not necessarily good for a future presidential candidate. Jindal brings up former President Bush’s name about as often as Romney does in the campaign, which is almost never.
If Romney is not elected, the GOP will be entering a serious round of recriminations and finger-pointing, not least among the most conservative activists who are likely to assert that Romney lost because he is not conservative enough. Those conservative activists are those Jindal has courted with his sometimes inexplicably bad state decisions that appeal to national constituencies — creationism in schools and opposition to renewal of existing tobacco taxes, among other bad calls.
As a governor, Jindal is more the master of his own political destiny. Does he eschew national politics? No, he can continue his active political traveling on behalf of the Republican Governors Association; Jindal is in office here until January 2016.
As Romney and others have demonstrated, running for president does not necessarily require holding down a fulltime job. If anything, a fulltime job might get in the way of the immense task.
So Stonecipher may not be wrong, as the governor might well change his mind about the best job anyone could want. But there are sound reasons of political interest for the governor to stay put, for now.