There was only one phone call Bobby Jindal needed to make on Wednesday–and that was to Jay Leno.
The Republican Louisiana governor utterly botched the GOP response to President Obama’s address to Congress. In the White House press briefing room on Wednesday, reporters were cruelly joking about Jindal’s performance, noting he had gone quickly from a political rising star to a black hole. “He made Sarah Palin look good,” one said. Another quipped, “No doubt this was a strategic attempt to lower expectations–and it succeeded wildly.”
The reviews have been universally awful. Even on the right. David Brooks called Jindal’s speech “insane.” Rightwing blog Little Green Footballs huffed, “Bobby Jindal…seemed to be trying for the same ‘inspirey hopey changey’ theme as the Big O, but came up with almost no specifics about anything at all….[T]the most specific point in his speech was the slam against volcano monitoring. And that came across as ignorant to me, and pandering to the anti-science far righties.” Fox News commentators put it down:
BRIT HUME: The speech read a lot better than it sounded. This was not Bobby Jindal’s greatest oratorical moment.
NINA EASTON: The delivery was not exactly terrific.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Jindal didn’t have a chance. He follows Obama, who in making speeches, is in a league of his own. He’s in a Reagan-esque league.… [Jindal] tried the best he could.
What’s an exorcist-loving, young Republican to do in response?
Jindal ought to steal a move from Bill Clinton and seek salvation on Leno’s set. In 1988, Bill Clinton, then a little-known Arkansas governor, delivered the keynote address at the Democrats’ presidential convention. It was a horribly boring speech. He droned on for what seemed like forever. And when he began his summation and said “in conclusion,” the audience cheered. He immediately became a national punchline. But Clinton moved fast to stop the bleeding. He joked with reporters about his terrible performance, and he quickly booked himself a spot on Johnny Carson’s show. (For you youngsters, Carson hosted The Tonight Show before Leno.) Sitting next to Johnny–after Carson gave him a very, very, very long introduction–Clinton engaged in self-ribbing and made good sport of his abysmal performance. Four years later, he was elected president of the United States.
Clinton was a survivor who turned a lousy moment into an entertaining bit. By doing so, he showed he was in touch with reality and could pivot accordingly. (Of course, some might say that Clinton was able to pivot too easily.)
Can Jindal pull as deft a move? At this stage, Leno is his best bet. And if he can get on the show before Saturday Night Live takes its shot, all the better for him and his now-less-than-brilliant political career.