Yes, responding to a State of the Union address is hard and it’s nearly impossible to top the main event. But for some reason, since Obama’s first joint-session address in 2009, the Republican responses have been consistently disastrous.
Let’s do the list. There was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) creepy Kenneth-the-page nightmare featuring an awkwardly choreographed walk-on; there was Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) cotton-mouthed water break; there was former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA), who was being groomed for 2016, but who’s now being groomed for an orange jumpsuit; and there was former Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) crazy-eyed response during which she stared into the wrong camera.
Following Tuesday’s night’s address there were three more GOP disasters.
1) Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)
Ernst’s response was a mess. In fact, I’m not sure she actually responded to Obama’s address. There was plenty to work with since the White House pre-released many of the bigger proposals with days to spare, yet the only Obama position she noted by name was the KeystoneXL pipeline which the president didn’t even mention in his address.
As for her performance, I suppose it was gaffe-free, minus the fact that she was so stiff and so rehearsed that she seemed more like a permanently grinning Stepford wife than a confident leader. Come to think of it, I kept waiting for her to tell us that our seat cushions could be used a flotation device.
And then there was her childhood yarn about the bread-bags on her one pair of shoes. This didn’t scream out poverty to me. At the risk of going full Andy Rooney, I only own one good pair of shoes. It’s not that bizarre. Neither was her story about her mother using bread-bags to keep her shoes dry, which doesn’t seem hardscrabble at all, it seems thrifty and practical. Besides, she said she used to plow the fields on her family farm, so she presumably had other shoes. How many pairs of “good shoes” does a kid actually need, regardless of whether she lives in rural Iowa?
Overall, another mess.
2) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Set aside the fact that Cruz has a distracting affectation or tic where he purses his lips after every other word, the tea party leader attempted to record his response using a cellphone camera, evidently, and it didn’t go well. A few sentences in, he either lost his train of thought or reconsidered what he was going to say and abruptly stopped the address. But the poor son of a bitch on Cruz’s staff who was tasked with posting the final take, accidentally posted the fuck-up. Stick with the video until the end:
3) Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL)
This wasn’t so much a formal response but a major gaffe during the post-address coverage. On MSNBC, Schock was quizzed by Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews about his rather odd tweet about the minimum wage:
Obama just claimed you can't raise a family on $7.25 hr. NEWS FLASH: you can't do it on $10.10 hr either! #sotu
— Aaron Schock (@aaronschock) January 21, 2015
But that wasn’t the gaffe, believe it or not. After squirming his way out of his tweet, Schock immediately fell into another gaping hole. When asked about Obama’s middle class tax cut proposal — again, a tax cut! — Schock said to Matthews:
“My voters don’t believe in income redistribution. And that’s what the president talked about here tonight. He didn’t talk about lowering tax rates, he talked about raising taxes on higher income earners, and giving money out to lower income earners. That’s called income redistribution, and that’s not what my voters in my district are voting for.”
See timecode 4:00
Matthews and Maddow were immediately astonished and jumped all over Schock’s answer. Matthews said, “I never heard a Republican say a tax cut is ‘giving people money.'” Yes, a Republican referred to a tax cut as “giving money out.” Not only does Schock not understand how tax cuts work, he actually came out against one. In this circumstance, Obama’s childcare tax credit is literally a reduction in the amount of taxes parents would have to pay in a given year. Schock described this as a handout. Amazing. Since when are Republicans opposed to this? Oh yeah, never mind — because it doesn’t apply to rich people.
Third fail of the night.
Here’s my theory on why this keeps happening. Since 2009 and the rise of the tea party, the GOP has been courting, electing and shoving-into-the-spotlight a series of political and intellectual lightweights who have no business holding national office, much less delivering responses to the State of the Union. Sure, the tea party, represented by Cruz, Ernst, Bachmann, Rubio and so forth, is effective at hoodwinking voters with dogwhistles and demagoguery, but it’s not ready for prime time and it’ll ultimately poison the GOP from within. And we haven’t seen anything yet. When some of these nincompoops, like Cruz or Rand Paul, run for president and step onto a debate stage, it’s going to look like the Three Stooges trying to fix the plumbing. Admittedly, this will be as entertaining as it’ll be frustrating. But get ready anyway. The gaffes and screw-ups have only just begun.
Adding… How could I have forgotten this?
I’ll save you 45 mins. Obama will decry Republicans, beat up on private business and argue for more “free stuff". Your welcome. #SOTU2015”
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) January 21, 2015