Newly elected Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst will deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, Republicans announced Thursday. [...] Ernst, who beat Democrat Bruce Braley decisively in November, told reporters she is "humbled and honored" to have the opportunity to deliver the address. The announcement was made at a Republican legislative retreat in Hersey, Pennsylvania.
Delivering an official response to a president's State of the Union address is a difficult, thankless task, which often doesn't go especially well (see Jindal, Bobby and Rubio, Marco). A president generally enjoys an august platform, interrupted repeatedly with standing ovations, while the response usually features a politician standing alone, struggling to read from a teleprompter while speaking to a lone camera.
With all of this in mind, Republicans have made their choice in advance of President Obama's speech next week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the right-wing Iowan, just one week into her congressional career, the "perfect choice."
And at a certain level, it's easy to understand why. Ernst is a telegenic speaker who just won a competitive U.S. Senate race in an important battleground state. Given that congressional Republican leaders are dominated by white men, it stands to reason that the party would prioritize diversity for this national address.
But if Joni Ernst is now the "perfect choice" to speak on behalf of the Republican Party in 2015, it's worth appreciating just what this choice tells us about the state of GOP politics.
For those who've forgotten, or perhaps didn't follow Iowa's U.S. Senate race closely, Ernst was arguably the most extremist candidate to seek statewide office in 2014. As readers may recall, Ernst endorsed banning abortions and many forms of birth control; nullifying federal laws she doesn’t like, privatizing Social Security; and impeaching President Obama. She argued that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction and people on Medicaid “have no personal responsibility for their health.” She dismissed the very existence of a federal minimum wage as “ridiculous” and credited the Koch brothers for the strength of her candidacy. She endorsed enough conspiracy theories to qualify her as the head of a Glenn Beck fan club.
At one point, Ernst expressed support for arresting federal officials who try to implement federal laws the far-right doesn't like, and later, she added that she likes to carry a loaded firearm with her everywhere, in case she needs to defend herself -- "whether it's from an intruder, or whether it's from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important." [Update: A reader also reminds me of the time Ernst referred to the president as a "dictator," as well as her outrageous rhetoric during the Ebola scare.]
The moment she was elected, Ernst instantly became one of the most radical U.S. senators, not just of this current Congress, but in recent American history.
As the 2014 campaign wound down, and revelations about the Republican's bizarre nuttiness grew more serious, Ernst decided to stop talking to mainstream news organizations in Iowa altogether. She won soon after by nearly nine points, despite her extremism and despite her confusion about the basics of current events and public policy.
Ernst is the "perfect choice" to speak for Republicans? Really? Why would GOP leaders consider that a development to be proud of?