It was billed as a "coming out party" for one of the GOP’s most promising young stars.
But after nearly universal criticism was heaped on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s high-profile response to President Obama’s address to Congress Tuesday night, the Louisiana Republican may be wishing he had stayed home. The criticisms came from all sides of the political spectrum, including from those in conservative circles who have promoted the 36-year-old governor as the GOP’s most likely advocate to bring the party back from the brink of irrelevance. Republicans who have followed Jindal’s upstart career from standout congressman to popular Louisiana governor know him to be an articulate and confident spokesman for the party’s fundamental principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility. But that’s not the man many saw delivering the GOP’s formal prime-time rebuttal to President Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress. “The Bobby Jindal you see on the Sunday shows was not the Bobby Jindal who showed up to give this speech,” said CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “He seemed over-coached and over-rehearsed.” Watch Jindal deliver the GOP response » Many conservatives say Jindal appeared at best off-balance and at worst downright amateur in his national debut.
Jindal calls stimulus ‘irresponsible’ in response
Transcript of Jindal’s response
“Some conservative needs to start a campaign to fire whoever wrote this cheesy response and coached him to talk like this,” wrote conservative columnist Amanda Carpenter on the popular social networking Web site Twitter. “I can’t watch.” “He should never be allowed near a teleprompter again!” declared the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez on Wednesday, while noting the governor had a much stronger performance on NBC’s “The Today Show” the morning after his speech. Of course, to follow the oratorically skilled Obama in any setting is no enviable task, especially when the president had the benefit of incessant applause lines and the pomp-and-circumstance associated with a presidential address to Congress. The contrast between the settings couldn’t be more stark, a challenge that even the most skilled politician would have difficulty confronting. While the president had the benefit of the ornate halls of Congress as his setting and numerous camera angles to give a sweeping view of the grand House Gallery, Jindal had to deliver his speech in a solitary room amid an almost deafening silence. “So much about it is perception,” said Eliot Shapiro, partner with EMS Communications, a firm that specializes in public speaking. “The response is one person, face-to-face with a camera, and you can never generate the same kind of buzz and energy as when there are 500 people in a room applauding.” To be sure, an opposition party’s response rarely wins wide praise: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ rebuttal last year was widely viewed as flat, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was panned for appearing particularly awkward in his 2006 rebuttal. “Everybody thinks [the response] is a great launching pad,” said CNN political contributor and White House veteran Ed Rollins, “I wouldn’t recommend to any of my clients, whatever you do don’t take the honor.” The Louisiana governor may also be a victim of overhype and outsized expectations. Jindal’s impressive resume and compelling background have been touted to make him a natural fit to compete against Obama and rescue a Republican Party that many fear is in danger of becoming confined to the South. But if conservatives are looking for Jindal to compete with the president stylistically, they should think again, sad Matt Lewis, a conservative blogger for AOL’s Political Machine. “Conservatives are looking for the conservative version Obama, a great orator,” Lewis said. “Bobby Jindal is many things — an intellectual, a son of immigrants and a policy wonk. But if conservatives are looking for someone who is going toe-to-toe with Obama, he’s the wrong guy.” Some Republicans praised the content of the speech itself: namely a vigorous defense of conservative principles and an optimistic can-do outlook on the future. They also say the speech laid out a cogent rebuttal to the Democrats massive stimulus bill, articulated a way forward for the GOP and rightly refrained from overly criticizing the president himself. “Jindal on Tuesday was likable, his personal story was compelling and he offered a positive vision of conservatism for America,” Lewis said. Jindal can also take solace in the fact that in politics, there often is more than one chance to make a good first impression. After all, some of the most prominent politicians today floundered their first attempt in the national spotlight, including former President Bill Clinton, who was widely panned for his 32-minute speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. The speech was immediately deemed disastrous by the political chattering class, and many predicted it would delay, perhaps even end, the his national ambitions.
Four years later he was the Democratic nominee for president. “Politicians often come back from moments such as these,” Crowley said. “It was perhaps not the most auspicious debut for Jindal on the national scene, but there is a lot of time left for rehabilitation.”