Republicans have reason to be pleased with the pick by party leaders of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to deliver the official response tomorrow night to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
The choice of the 44-year-old mother of three generated wide press coverage, in part because it is so obviously an effort to reach out to women voters by a party that sorely needs to do so, and in part because of her own compelling personal story (as our colleague Derek Wallbank touched upon).
For her part, McMorris Rodgers has reason for at least a twinge of concern about what her moment in the spotlight may portend. And that’s because the slot hasn’t exactly proved a plus or led to bigger and better things for some of her immediate predecessors.
Five Republicans previously have been tapped to counter an Obama SOTU speech, and for two of them the result was more embarrassment than enhanced prestige.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was selected for the honors in early 2009, and it appeared an inspired choice. Jindal was seen as a rising political star and, coming on the heels of the election of America’s first black president, putting this son of immigrants from India before the cameras implicitly gave his party a more varied face.
His star turn, though, fell flat. His presentation, the substance of his comments and even the speech’s stagecraft all got zinged. A Huffington Post headline summed it up: “Bobby Jindal Response Panned By Pundits, Republicans And Democrats Alike” (here’s the post).
Last year, with Obama coming off a re-election win boosted by strong Hispanic support, the GOP made another seemingly shrewd move in sliding Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, into the response role. Rubio already was generating buzz as a potentially strong 2016 presidential contender.
He may still live up to that promise. But it won’t be because of a speech that quickly became notable for an awkward water break. And that moment proved a prelude to a politically challenging year for Rubio, who ran afoul of much of the Republican base when he helped craft a bipartisan bill to revise immigration policy. As a Fox News piece noted, as of late 2013 he was still trying to “reconnect with conservatives.”
There looms an even worse role model for McMorris Rodgers — former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the SOTU responder in 2010. His remarks are remembered for, well, not much, except that they were brief.
Terseness is usually a good thing for a politician. What’s a bad thing, though, is gettting indicted on federal corruption charges just after leaving office, which is what just happened to McDonnell. He and his wife are accused of having received an array of gifts during his gubernatorial term from a favor-seeker , including pricey clothing by Louis Vuitton, Armani and Oscar de la Renta.
So some advice for McMorris Rodgers:
– Don’t short-change your backdrop.
– Make sure you’re well-hydrated.
– Wear an outfit you paid for.
McMorris Rodgers also can take heart that another of the Republican responders to Obama was Rep. Paul Ryan, who did the honors in 2010. In 2012, of course, he landed on the party’s presidential ticket.
And then there was that one member of the duo who, in 1966, kicked off the tradition of the nationally televised SOTU rejoinder. Democrat Lyndon Johnson was then the president; responding to him were the two Republican minority leaders in Congress – Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois and Rep. Gerald Ford of Michigan.
Nine years later, it was Ford who traveled from the White House to the House chamber to offer his view of the state of the nation.