State of the Union responses are typically doomed to obscurity, or worse.
At best, they are unremembered. At worse, they can backfire on the deliverer. (Who can forget Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's response
-- which may have derailed a possible 2012 presidential bid.)
As such, one wonders about the wisdom of assigning the role to another conservative "rising star" -- the boyish and wonkish House Budget Committee Chair, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). After all, no matter who gives a response, the speaker faces huge structural challenges: The deliverer must compete with the pageantry and spectacle of the president of the United States. And by definition, the responder is playing "defense."
As the Daily Caller's Mary Katharine Ham aptly put it
Tonight the President of the United States of America will stride into a joint session of Congress to thunderous, bipartisan applause and take to the lofty dais from which he will deliver an address filled with goals, inspiration, conviction and occasional poetry to a waiting nation.
Then there's the other guy.
. . . And then there's the other gal.
Not only must Ryan battle history and a highly unfavorable milieu, he has another challenge: Rep. Michele Bachmann -- who will be delivering a tea party response
Those who argue that more voices are better are mistaken. More voices can cloud a coherent message -- a point especially true considering the inherent obstacles Ryan already faces.
And let's be honest -- suppose Ryan delivers a smart and coherent rebuke of Obama's speech (an outcome that is not unlikely) but Bachmann says something controversial. Who do you think will get the most media attention? It is very likely Bachmann could step on Ryan's response.
I would be more favorable toward Bachmann's plans if the official GOP response were being delivered by a moderate -- or by someone incapable of effectively making the conservative case. This is clearly not the case. (Note: In the past, I have criticized Ryan's voting record
, but his ability to articulate a persuasive conservative message is indisputable.)
Ultimately, the Ryan vs. Bachmann narrative is just a microcosm of a larger divide within the GOP. Interestingly, this schism recently became evident when Bachmann briefly challenged solid conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling for GOP Conference Chair (I argued conservatives should back Hensarling
This is a new development and, frankly, I'm not terribly comfortable with it. In the past, there was a battle between real conservatives and RINOs (Republicans in name only). I was happily on the side of the conservatives. Today, however, it seems there is another split within that movement. You could look at it as a split between grassroots conservatives and the "ruling class." Another way of looking at it, however, is between credible, competent conservatives and their less serious counterparts.