A year ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave the Republican response to Obama’s first state of the union address. Famously, it was a disaster for Jindal. He looked and sounded like Kenneth the Page, cracked feeble jokes that later haunted him, and generally undermined his image.
Leading into his speech, he was widely viewed as the GOP’s own Obama, and was all over the news — among other things, he was getting national attention for refusing stimulus money that he thought would be counterproductive. Jindal was widely considered one of the best, if not the very best GOP 2012 candidate for president.
At the time I would not have thought it possible that Jindal could shoot himself in the foot so badly that he would feel compelled to spend a year scaling back his national profile-raising activities. But here we are a year later, and outside of a minor outcry about his use of helicopters to attend church, he’s mostly faded into the woodwork.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is slated to give the Republican response tonight, and apparently he’s already learned one key lesson from Jindal’s debacle. He’s going to avoid Jindal’s mistake of speaking from an awkward standing position in the governor’s mansion, and instead speak in front of 300 supporters in the Virginia House of Delegates. It’s hard to compete with the full Congress assembled on Capitol Hill, but 300 people in the legislative building is much better than addressing no one while standing sheepishly in an empty hallway in the governor’s mansion.
Improving the setting is a start, but I wonder why McDonnell chose to deliver the address at all. The president’s state of the union matters no matter what his presentation, because he announces an agenda that he can actually shape. The responding speaker’s words, however, can’t possibly be as meaningful and are mostly restricted to complaints. McDonnell’s seen the downside risks, thanks to Jindal. The upsides are increased national exposure and a chance to counter the president’s new talking points. Is it worth it?