Not too long ago, a president would deliver a State of the Union address… and that was it. Much of the country would see the speech, pundits would talk about it, and either the political world would respond favorably or it wouldn’t.
In the 1960s, Republicans decided it wasn’t entirely fair for a president to have all the fun, and the official State of the Union response was born.
But in the Obama era, as GOP politics went off the deep end, the number of speeches on the big night proliferated. Last year, in addition to President Obama’s actual SOTU, there was an official Republican response, an official Republican Spanish-language response, a Tea Party response, Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) self-indulgent response, and a “prebuttal” from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) because, well, why the heck not.
This year, the fact that Republicans tapped Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) for the party’s official response seemingly negated the need for competing conservative voices – Ernst is, after all, one of the most frighteningly right-wing senators in a generation. Why bother with a Tea Party response if the Republican address will be delivered by arguably the most radical voice in the Senate?
Apparently, that didn’t matter.
Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.) will deliver the tea party’s response to President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, the Tea Party Express announced Thursday.“2015 marks a year of new beginnings for the Tea Party movement,” Tea Party Express executive director Taylor Budowich said in a statement. “These new Tea Party members of Congress are brimming with ideas to make America economically stronger with opportunity for all to realize the American Dream. We are honored to present Florida Congressman Curt Clawson, the first Tea Party Express victory for the 2014 cycle, as someone committed to making Congress deliver for the American people.”
To appreciate what makes the selection interesting, consider the impression Congressman Clawson has made over the course of his brief, seven-month career on Capitol Hill.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, it was Clawson who spoke to senior officials from the U.S. State Department and Commerce Department during a House Foreign Affairs Committee last July. Despite the fact that the officials are Americans representing the Obama administration – they were even introduced as former aides on the House Foreign Affairs Committee itself – Clawson assumed the Indian-American witnesses were literally officials from India.
“I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” the Florida Republican said. When one of the U.S. officials gently tried to explain that they’re Americans working for the U.S. federal government, Clawson ignored the cues and stuck to his faulty assumptions. He later apologized.
Two weeks ago, Clawson raised eyebrows again, casting a vote for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – yes that Rand Paul – to be Speaker of the House. That the Kentucky senator is not a member of the House apparently didn’t bother the congressman.
And now he’s the guy delivering a response to the State of the Union address, along with Ernst. (Freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) is delivering the Republicans’ Spanish-language response, which will reportedly mirror the substance of Ernst’s speech.)
As we talked about last year at this time, let’s not forget that there used to be one Republican response because the party wouldn’t tolerate any other scenario. GOP lawmakers who deliberately chose to step on – or worse, contradict – their party’s scripted message risked raising the ire of party leaders and insiders. Only one SOTU response was given because no Republican in Congress would dare challenge – or even think to challenge – the party’s message operation.
Those norms have collapsed. “There is no clear leadership in the Republican Party right now, no clear direction or message, and no way to enforce discipline,” Mark McKinnon, a veteran Republican strategist, said last year. “And because there’s a vacuum, and no shortage of cameras, there are plenty of actors happy to audition.”