Delivering the response to a presidential address is an inherently difficult task, which is why these speeches are often a mess. Bobby Jindal's attempt in 2009 was so cringe-worthy, it contributed to the end of his unfortunate career. The whole idea of the exercise is practically impossible: officials are asked to deliver remarks responding to a different speech they haven't actually heard or seen in advance.
I generally find it amazing when party officials convince anyone to accept the gig at all.
Nevertheless, some take on the challenge, and this week, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) received some praise, mostly from other Republicans, for delivering his party's response to President Joe Biden's address to a joint session of Congress. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared on Fox News today and dodged a question about Donald Trump by pointing to his colleague's speech.
"We're looking to the future, not the past, and if you want to see the future of the Republican Party watch Tim Scott's response to President Biden last night," McConnell said. "He's the future, that's where we're headed."
That's high praise, though after having seen the South Carolinian's remarks, it's discouraging to think Scott's speech is where the Republican Party is headed.
NBC News' First Read team had this reaction to the senator's speech.
That brings us to the GOP response from Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who criticized Biden for not uniting America, for spending and taxing too much, and over the situation at the border. But what his speech didn't do was present an alternative, forward-looking political future — other than praise what happened during Trump's presidency.
The senator complained, for example, that Biden is pursuing ideas that Republicans don't like -- which is an odd thing to be upset about, since Democratic presidents are invariably going to pursue ideas that Republicans don't like.
He soon after complained that Republicans didn't like the Democrats' COVID relief package, either -- which also an odd thing to bring up, since the GOP didn't exactly have good reasons to oppose the popular and effectively legislation that's currently helping the economy soar.
Scott proceeded to take aim at Biden's infrastructure plan -- currently supported by nearly 7 in 10 Americans -- and the rollback of Republican tax cuts, which also happens to enjoy broad public support.
It was part of an unnerving pattern: Scott expressed deep disappointment that Biden is keeping his campaign promises, following through on the platform the president vowed to pursue if elected, and offering proposals that most Americans want to see pass. The South Carolina senator apparently thinks this an awful approach to governance because it's "pulling us further and further apart."
Of course, by that reasoning, all Republicans have to do is support the popular and effective ideas the White House is proposing, at which point the nation will be pulled closer and closer together. When GOP lawmakers balk at worthwhile legislation, the real controversy is not with those who want to pass those bills anyway; it's with those who fold their arms and express indifference toward good governance, election results and popular will be damned.
Scott proceeded to pretend that Republicans "support making it easier to vote," have recommended a COVID strategy based on science, and are committed to progress on matters of race and criminal justice, all of which was an unfortunate peek into an alternate reality.
And while all of the details matter, the big picture matters just as much: After Tim Scott explicitly told the public, "[O]ur nation is starving for more than empty platitudes," Americans didn't have a better sense of the Republican Party's agenda after speech than before it.
After Biden presented an ambitious and substantive vision, the senator failed to make the case that the president's agenda wouldn't work, and then failed to explain what he thought might work instead.
If the speech was, as Mitch McConnell put it, "the future of the Republican Party," and a look into "where we're headed," I'm hard pressed to imagine why anyone would be optimistic about the GOP's governing prospects.