State of the Union 2014: 10 Republicans who could give the GOP response
By: Jennifer Epstein
January 21, 2014 05:13 AM EST
Everyone knows the first speaker on State of the Union night next Tuesday — President Barack Obama — but the Republican who follows him will have a prime opportunity to make a splash on the national scene as well.
Recent history suggests that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will turn to a Republican with broad national appeal and White House ambitions.
The opportunity to capture the eyeballs of tens of millions of Americans is one that few aspiring to bigger jobs would turn down. But it’s not without its perils – Sen. Marco Rubio’s reach for a bottle of water during his 2013 speech or comparisons of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to “30 Rock” character Kenneth the Page – can detract from the message and backfire on the messenger.
Boehner and McConnell make the choice together, and “there’s no magic formula,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. “We always seek someone who can effectively communicate our solutions, priorities, and the principles we stand for. And we’re lucky to have a lot of talented people to choose from.”
The leaders could choose to pull a Dick Cheney and choose themselves to deliver the response, but assuming they look outside their small circle, here are 10 possibilities, and the pros and cons for each getting the job:
1) Scott Walker
Pro: The Wisconsin governor has the name recognition and ambitions that would make him a logical choice to respond to the president. He hasn’t been shy about rebutting Democrats’ positions on unemployment insurance and the minimum wage, arguing that the White House’s latest push on income inequality is an effort to distract from problems with the Affordable Care Act. He could also cite his state’s requirement that unemployed people without children must be engaged in a job training program to receive benefits and suggest that the same be required in other states or nationally.
Con: Will the base like it? Walker’s popular on the economic front, but has avoided talking about the red meat social issues that appeal to Republican voters.
2) Paul Ryan
Pro: Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate, could tout the bipartisan budget deal reached last month with Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as a signal the GOP is willing to reach across the aisle and break the image of Congress as hopelessly deadlocked.
Con: Ryan is still remembered as the No. 2 on the losing Mitt Romney ticket. Plus, he gave the GOP response to the SOTU just three years ago.
3) Ted Cruz
Pro: The Texas freshman senator isn’t a favorite of the party establishment has been one of the most visible national Republicans over the past year, especially for his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. He captured headlines in September with his 21-hour anti-Obamacare speech on the Senate floor, and was widely credited (and attacked) as the person most responsible for the GOP’s defund-or-shut down strategy on the health care law, which in part led to a 16-day government shutdown. The selection of Cruz might also head off a separate tea party response – a tradition started by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in 2011 and followed up with speeches by Herman Cain in 2012 and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in 2013.
Con: The shutdown was a disaster, Obamacare still exists and Cruz had to defend himself against angry fellow Republicans in closed-door meetings last fall.
4) John Cornyn
Pro: Cruz’s fellow Texas senator, Cornyn, the minority whip, who would speak on behalf of the conservative – though not extreme – members of the GOP. Like McConnell in Kentucky, Cornyn and opposed Cruz’s approach to Obamacare and the government shutdown, and faces a primary challenge from the right.
Con: Cornyn doesn’t have the same star power as others on this list and isn’t linked to any national campaign.
5) Eric Cantor
Pro: Boehner could turn to the Virginian, his second-in-command, to remind Americans that the House majority will continue to stand in the way of Obama’s increasingly unpopular agenda. To rebut Obama’s argument that Republicans have blocked economic development, Cantor could point to the countless bills to strengthen the economy that House Republicans have passed only to watch them stall in the Senate. And to respond to the president’s boasts about the Affordable Care Act, Cantor could point to the House GOP’s nearly four-dozen votes to repeal the law or parts thereof.
Con: Congress is more unpopular than the IRS. Selecting one member of the GOP leadership will lead to charges of favoritism and hurt feelings on the Hill.
6) Nikki Haley
Pro: If the leaders choose to look outside Washington, they might turn to the South Carolina governor, who is in a tight reelection race against Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen – who she beat by less than five points back in 2010. Haley is also a forceful opponent of the Affordable Care Act. Following action last year by the state House, the state Senate is expected to take up a bill in the coming weeks that would nullify certain pieces of the law, bar state employees from participating in the federal exchange and otherwise seek to undermine the law.
Con: Haley’s star isn’t quite where it was when she was first elected in 2010.
7) Mia Love
Pro: Love, a Utah U.S. House candidate would be the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, a plus for a party desperate to demonstrate its diversity. Love has proven she can deliver in the spotlight, as she did when she spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Putting the 38-year-old former Saratoga Springs mayor back in the national eye would boost her profile and her fundraising as she promotes a pro-business, limited government agenda.
Con: The GOP response has traditionally been presented by a current officeholder; a House candidate from Utah may not fit the bill.
8) Susana Martinez
Pro: The New Mexico governor is up for reelection this fall and has seen her approval ratings slip, though she’s still well above 50 percent. Martinez has the added appeal of being a Republican from a state that Obama won twice. And, like Rubio, Martinez — the nation’s first female Hispanic governor – could also deliver her response in Spanish.
Con: Weak on Obamacare; early adopter of Medicaid expansion under the ACA.
9) Jeb Bush
Pro: Bush, the former Florida governor, has said he won’t start thinking about a 2016 bid until later this year, but he’s laying the groundwork with extensive travel and periodic expressions of his views. In a book published last year, he outlined a more moderate plan than many other Republicans on immigration reform, supporting legalization, but not citizenship, for undocumented immigrants. In a potential response – which Bush could deliver in his fluent Spanish, he could speak about immigration in more general terms, while also turning attention to the economy and education.
Con: It’s unlikely that Boehner and McConnell would turn to someone so out of the current debates to engage head on with the president. He might end up being a better option in 2015 or beyond.
10) Chris Christie
Pro: It’d be a media circus.
Con: It’d be a media circus.
What a difference a few weeks make. The New Jersey governor, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and 2016 presidential contender would have been a frontrunner for the State of the Union response if the speech were last month. But the developing scandal over his administration’s involvement in lane closures on the George Washington Bridge has overtaken all that.