I first met Bobby Jindal in early 2003. He was running to be governor of Louisiana. He was 32. And he was, literally, the single most accomplished and impressive young person I had ever met.
Ivy League grad with degrees in biology and public policy. Rhodes Scholar. Head of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at 24. By 27, the executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. President of the Louisiana state university system. It was an absolutely remarkable resume -- the ambitious, in-a-hurry high achiever personified. (I was 27 at the time of that interview and, um, slightly less accomplished.)
Jindal lost that first race, which in retrospect was telling. He then quickly ran and won the open 1st District congressional seat in 2004 and bided his time in Washington until he could run again for governor, which he did in 2007 -- easily winning an open-seat race.
He immediately became a nationally known figure as the country's first Indian American governor -- and a Republican to boot. By the end of 2008, Jindal fever was everywhere. Steve Schmidt, who oversaw John McCain's presidential bid that year, told The Post this about Jindal: "The question is not whether he'll be president, but when he'll be president, because he will be elected someday." (That Schmidt quote appeared in a story headlined: "GOP Looks to Young Louisiana Gov. Jindal as Its Own Version of Obama." And others made the same comparison.)
It made perfect sense then that Jindal would be asked to deliver the 2009 Republican response to President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. Then this happened:
Jindal looked and sounded totally out of his depth. His delivery was widely mocked -- Jon Stewart delivered a particularly brutal takedown -- and Jindal drew unfavorable comparisons to "Kenneth the Page," the hopelessly naive country bumpkin played by Jack McBrayer on NBC's "30 Rock."
The Jindal team -- and Republicans more generally -- dismissed the performance as meaningless. No, he wasn't great, they acknowledged. But who cares? And I generally agreed. After all, lots and lots of up-and-coming politicians delivered poorly reviewed big speeches (and even responses to the State of the Union like Jindal), and it wound up not mattering at all to their future.
Yet, looking back with six years of hindsight, that speech was telling and important to all that would come after it for Jindal. Why? It was the first tangible sign that his fast-moving and quick-climbing approach to politics had a downside. He just wasn't ready for a stage that big. It engulfed him.
Time and again over the intervening years, that narrative played itself out. He is widely disliked in Louisiana -- by Democrats and Republicans. Even as Jindal's personal approval rating has sunk to levels at times lower than Obama's in his own, heavily conservative state, he spent almost half of 2014 outside the state in pursuit of his presidential ambitions.
A May poll showed that just 31 percent of Louisianans approved of the job Jindal was doing. "There’s a solid argument to make that no state is in worse shape than Louisiana," said Bob Mann, a former top aide to Louisiana Democratic Sen. John Breaux and now a professor at Louisiana State University. "And I can't see any reasonable argument for the proposition that Republicans would anoint the least-popular governor of the least-successful state to carry their banner into the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton who, according to one recent poll, might beat him in Louisiana."
There's little evidence that Republican voters are longing for the candidacy Jindal will formally announce later Wednesday in his home state. Jindal is currently in 15th place (out of 15) in the 2016 Republican sweepstakes, according to the polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics. Jindal is averaging 0.8 percent of the vote in the national surveys conducted on the race and at this point is in serious jeopardy of not qualifying for the first debate, which is just six weeks away.
None of that matters, according to Jindal allies. He's a small-state governor, they say. Very few people knew him nationally in 2008. Very few people know him nationally today. "He’s lost nothing ... except in the minds of a few of the irrelevant chatterers in D.C.," said one Jindal insider.
Point taken. After all, if Rick Santorum can go from punchline to the winner of 11 states in the space of one election cycle, who's to say Jindal can't make a more serious run for the nomination than people think he will today?
The problem, of course, is that presidential primary races are often won long before any voter starts paying attention -- in the raising of money and construction of organizations that are the spine of any winning campaign. And that process is heavily driven by buzz and perception, which usually -- though not always -- originates from Washington. Jindal once benefited from that buzz machine. Today, he's hurt by it -- badly.
If Jindal never becomes the serious contender that his team believes he will be, there will rightly be second-guessing of whether Jindal's tendency to always be pushing to the next big achievement, which served him well for his first 30-plus years on earth, wound up as his ultimate weakness, politically speaking. Never able to simply occupy an office or a job without looking to see where the next rung on the ladder might be. Never realizing that sometimes the best way to gain experience is to simply, well, gain it.
In the end, the long-ago comparison of Jindal to Obama might be oddly apt to Republicans looking at Jindal through the 2016 lens: Both men rose fast, racing through the paths to power that politicians take, and both, when they got what they wanted, weren't ready for it.