AP Photo/NBC, Douglas Gorenstein
Friday, June 13, 2014 | 5:51 p.m.
NEWARK, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie's latest appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" not only proved the man can bust a move and take a joke. It also provided an opportunity for the potential Republican presidential contender to put the traffic scandal in his rear-view mirror.
Christie poked fun at himself and the George Washington Bridge furor on Thursday night during his first late-night TV appearance since the story that has cast a cloud over his 2016 White House prospects broke several months ago.
Wearing a polo shirt and pleated, high-waisted khakis, he swiveled his hips and threw up his hands as he and Fallon demonstrated dorky, middle-aged dance moves in a comedy bit called "The Evolution of Dad Dancing."
When Fallon began to show off a move called the "This Bridge Is Closed," the governor pretended to walk off the stage in a huff.
Later on the program, Christie joked that as bad as the lane-closing scandal has been, the dance performance was far more humiliating to his family "because I actually did that."
Within minutes, videos of the appearance were flying around the Internet. The website Gawker chided Christie for dancing "like a buffoon that makes you want to scrub your eyes with bleach." Business Insider said the video would "blow your mind."
If it looked unpresidential to some viewers, the Christie camp didn't seem to be worried.
The governor's office eagerly promoted the appearance, sending out a news release to reporters Friday that read, "The Gov & Fallon Dance, Dish, And All Around Embarrass The Kids on The Tonight Show."
Mike DuHaime, who has served as the governor's campaign strategist, said it showed off Christie as a "down-to-earth" guy with the ability to have fun. He rejected any suggestion the footage could come back to haunt Christie if he decides to run.
"I think the fact that he has got a sense of humor, I think people appreciate that," DuHaime said. "I think he was out there enjoying it, and if somebody wants to attack his dancing for political reasons, so be it. I'm not too worried about that."
The appearance brought Christie full circle in a way: He initially made a joke out of the traffic story, then took it seriously when it was reported that some of those around him engineered the gridlock last September in an apparent act of political payback. He has denied any role in the scheme.
Some observers saw the "Tonight Show" appearance as part of a larger effort by Christie to revive his national poll numbers and earn the confidence of key GOP donors who may have been scared off by the scandal.
"I see it as part of his very purposeful rehabilitation effort, his very purposeful effort to say nationally that, 'Hey, I'm still Chris Christie, I'm still here, nothing's different,'" said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling in New Jersey.
In other words, he said, Christie's jokes and dance moves were his way of announcing: "I've got my national mojo back."
Either way, the appearance drew enormous attention. A video of the dad segment posted on the show's official YouTube page had been viewed over a million times by Friday evening. And the performance came up repeatedly during an online chat Christie conducted from Facebook's Silicon Valley headquarters, in which he was also asked about medical marijuana and whether he's planning a trip to Europe anytime soon.
"I like the way you shake your booty, please run against Hillary, she scares me! Love you!" wrote one user, referring to former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic contender Hillary Clinton. "Thanks you...I think," the governor typed back.
If Christie does run for president, he will join the list of White House candidates and victors who showed they could lighten up on TV.
President Barack Obama "slow-jammed" the news on Fallon's previous show, "Late Night"; candidate Bill Clinton donned dark sunglasses and played the saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1992; Vice President Al Gore put on goggles and smashed an ashtray with a hammer on David Letterman's show in 1993; and Richard Nixon uttered "Sock it to me" on "Laugh-In" before the 1968 election.