What is it with the folks over at the GOP command bunker?
The State of the Union response gig is a fool’s errand. Nobody really cares about it; the media resents having to halt whatever self-amuse may be hair-ifying their palms; and the atmospherics of the actual speech are going to suck. No matter how much they may try (and they usually don’t very much)** you can’t win a visual comparison with a presidential address before a joint session of Congress.
Going up on the teevee after the President on such occasions is a necessary evil for the out-party, something that somebody has to do. There’s a ton of pressure, and the near-certainty of losing the comparison with the act you’re attempting to follow
So: do you put the rookie talent you’re trying to nurture into a role where merely avoiding embarrassment is a triumph? Or do you choose someone who’s been to the dance before?
If you’re the GOP, you burn Bobby Jindal four years ago, and now you toss Marco Rubio into a steaming pile of that which emerges from the south end of a north-facing horse.
Seriously — this makes no sense. In both cases two men that the Republican party at least seems to think are potential major national players were tossed into a structurally difficult task at the very beginning of their big-league political careers.
Both did worse than I think their handlers may have expected, but where was the sense in taking the risk at all? It’s years yet –at least a couple, before the public presidential race kicks in. There’s no conceivable benefit to the individuals or the party that could flow from a speech in these circumstances that will matter in any deep way either to the actual political process in the here and now, nor to presidential politics coming down the pike. Doesn’t it make more sense to send up there somebody who has been up and down the course a couple of times and can be trusted to come home with as few bogies as possible?
I know, I know. In both the Jindal and Rubio examples there is a party motive: the attempt to portray the Republican gerontocracy as something other than old and pale. But, to continue to mix metaphors, this is a case of eating your seed corn. Jindal is still a figure of fun; Rubio took a real blow last night, IMHO. It just seems like crappy long-term political management to me. Which, of course, is just fine, coming from that side of the aisle. Long may such fecklessness wave!
*Grim origin-event for this title.
**That said, you can do better or worse, and last night’s GOP set was truly horrendous. My wife, a two-time Emmy award winning designer (bragsplaining, I know), wondered if the folks in the Republican brain trust have even heard of the concept of production values. Bad camera line, crappy camera-subject geometry, and cliched, busy visual design. I know how hard it is to make a single-camera shot against a backdrop sing. But it is a mere matter of professional skill to do it not-awfully. Rubio, for all his own sins, was ill-served by those who should have taken much more care.
Image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougival, betw. c. 1882 adn 1883.