Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wasting the SOTU Response

I put something over at PostPartisan this afternoon saying that Marco Rubio is nuts to give the State of Union  response, which he'll apparently be doing this year. It's a no-win, for lots of reasons.

But it isn't no-win for everyone. There is one group of politicians who seem to have thrived after giving a SOTU response, although we haven't been getting many of them lately: obscure Members of the House of Representatives.

Usually SOTU responses are either solo slots or two politicians give it. But Democrats have, in the past, used a group approach, with five or more people, including Members of the House outside of the leadership.

Democrats first tried it in 1972, with five Members speaking in addition to the Speaker and Majority Leader. One of those five, John Brademas, eventually became House Democratic Whip. Another, John Melcher, became a Senator. And Martha Griffiths became Lt. Governor of Michigan.

In 1982 they tried again, this time with a bunch of Senators, the Speaker, and one other Member of the House -- Al Gore, four years away from running for Senate.

In 1983, two of the five Members (not counting Tip O'Neill), Tim Wirth and Paul Simon, became Senators; another, Les AuCoin, was nominated and closely defeated in a Senate campaign.

In 1984, Barbara Boxer and Tom Harkin were two of the four Representatives chosen.

That's pretty good! By my count, that's 15 Members of the House who were involved in group SOTU responses, with 6 becoming Senators (plus another close call, a statewide elected official, and a House Whip).

Republicans only tried the group response once, in 1968, with seven Members (and Minority Leader Ford) included. Of those, Albert Quie later become governor of Minnesota, and Mel Laird was Nixon's Secretary of Defense. Oh, and George H.W. Bush didn't get a Senate seat out of it, but I think he turned out okay. Republicans have gone with non-leadership Members alone or as a pair, but that hasn't really worked out, unless you count Paul Ryan getting the VP nomination. I guess Steve Largent did get a GOP nomination for governor, so that counts.

It makes sense that if anyone is going to be helped by a SOTU response, it would be relatively obscure Members of the House. The national press already knows Marco Rubio and other potential presidential candidates; I suspect serious donors and activists on the Republican side do, too. SOTU response doesn't really elevate most Senators or governors, but it can hurt their images. But a bit of national TV probably can help raise the profile of Members of the House -- and the group format means that they're unlikely to have a Jindal-like disaster, either.

So if I were advising the out-party, I'd go with a group format and use the opportunity to advertise some Members of the House who might be going places. After all: why not? It's not as if you're going to get anything else out of the response.


  1. What's wrong with a solo response by a backbencher to raise their national profile?.......

    1. Another argument for using the response to promote someone who you *want* to give media coverage to.

  2. Well, couple things. I like your group spotlight on some up-and-comers, and if the current GOP actually had some policies and coherent messaging, I’d say that’s worth a try.

    But they don’t really, as evidenced by Cantor’s lead balloon. So right now, better just to go with a solo response by someone who already has a national profile, so his or her rhetorical take on things will at least be familiar, and have a chance at resonating. It’s what they were going for with Ryan and Daniels. I guess from their point of view Ryan succeeded, but Daniels was awful.

    And if you are going with one person, it’s got to be Rubio. After Jindal, McDonnell, and Ryan (Daniels was a punt), who else could you give it to, in this year of immigration reform? He’s taking risks, perhaps even leading, on a major policy crucial to the GOP’s future (or so they desperately hope). Plus, right now he’s the Republican Savior on the cover of Time, and he’s delivering the speech in both English and Spanish. It’s his moment.

  3. Why you stop in 1984?!

    Feb. 6, 1985: Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and Florida Governor Bob Graham (with Tip).

    We got a President and Senator out of that one!

    It was a Town Hall!
    (partial video)

    Turn It On Again!

    Money quote: (Lt. Gov. Nancy Dick of CO) "Do you think, after this last election, that there really is a role for the Democratic Party in this country?"

    Oh man, how depressing. The 1985 Dem arguments are virtually identical to today's...

  4. He's wasting the response by trotting out the same tired Republican talking points they've been spouting for decades, and we all know where that led us: the 2008 collapse of the economy and increasing divide between the rich and the poor.


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