Not unlike the endless parade of self-congratulatory award shows the movie and music industries lavish upon themselves during "awards season," last night's State of the Union address will perhaps be more memorable for the "after-parties" than the substance of the main event itself. Having been so thoroughly underwhelmed with the president's address before Congress last night, I found other, more-promising endeavors to pursue after the first half-hour. The real excitement, however, began with the State of the Union after-parties, of which there was not just one or even only two but at least four -- count 'em, four -- GOP responses, (excluding the one from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus). This includes the unofficial Tea Party response from self-appointed Tea Party and Libertarian darling, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).
What I found most-stunning about this plethora of Republican responses to the president's State of the Union address was not those responses themselves, which were individually and collectively predictable, but the response of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, appearing today on Morning Joe, defending the panoply of publicly aired opinions by GOP and self-appointed spokespeople who felt the burning need to respond to the president.
Since Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) offered the Republican response to president Lyndon Johnson's 1966 State of the Union address, which was broadcast on national television following president Johnson's appearance, there has always been a televised, official, opposition rebuttal to the president's annual address to Congress. Last night, that official response was provided by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who was so selected to appear on national television on behalf of the Republican Party. However, continuing a trend that began during President Obama's first term, the GOP appears to have added an annually increasing number of unofficial/official rebuttals to the State of the Union address beyond the one with the historical precedent dating back almost 50 years.
In responding to host Joe Scarborough's question about whether it's good for the GOP to have so many different responses to the State of the Union address -- "I was a little concerned about three Republican responses instead of one" -- Priebus had this to offer, without apology:
I think that having [Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen] do the response, the The Hispanic and Latino response, was very good. And I thought the fact that the Tea Party Express had [Utah Senator] Mike Lee, who's another good Republican... I think it's a positive thing for the Republican Party for the Tea Party to put in a good Republican giving a good Republican response saying "this president isn't delivering on his promises," and that there's a better way and that there's a Republican Senator explaining that there's a better way. How is that not good for our party? I think it's great.
Responding to a follow-up question from co-host Mika Brzezinski, about whether it's actually bad for the GOP to lack a clear spokesperson for the party -- "It shows, sort of, you don't really have a sense of a leader..." -- Priebus responded as follows:
Well, here's the reality, Mika. When you're five years out of the White House, obviously there are a lot of voices And I think one of the challenges in our party is obviously to keep all of those different voices in the same room, and speaking out of the same hymnal. And I think, last night, you saw that. Now, granted, different people speaking but, actually, if you look back over the last few years its the same thing that happened last year and the year before but keeping the party together.
It's a little hard to discern whether Brzezinski's question received a cogent answer out that word salad, which may be distilled down to "well, we've been doing this for a few years now." Mr. Priebus, how did that work out for your party in the 2012 elections? The answer is, the RNC has no good answer why it required four different "spokespeople," five if you include the Priebus response on behalf of the RNC itself, to rebut the president's State of the Union address last night.
Turning then to what was at least equally as stunning as Priebus's lack of an answer about why the RNC is listening to all of the voices in its head, during two separate, substantive exchanges with Scarborough that clearly showed the RNC's current leanings in 2016, not one time was the Republican governor of New Jersey (as recently as the beginning of 2014 the darling among the GOP's stable of contenders for the party's presidential nomination) mentioned. Not even just in passing.
The RNC Chair mentions not once but twice in his 10-plus-minute segment on Morning Joe, a litany of GOP luminaries, such as they are, each one of whom is likely a 2016 hopeful for the Republican Presidential nomination. At the beginning, he waxes ecstatic about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and then mentions him again at the end.
In Scarborough's lead-in to the opening segment of Priebus's appearance on Morning Joe, he said:
Scott Walker, one of my favorites. Why don't we do a little RNC-paid advertisement, God knows we can use it... This is a guy who, you know, may have some national aspirations.
Priebus was only too happy to oblige. Taking a swing at that soft pitch over the plate, as if they'd talked about this ahead of time, Priebus said:.
Well, I mean, I think Scott's a real testament of leadership especially among our governors. But really, I mean, he's the kind of classic case of where, if you just don't over-promise, you make a few big promises and you follow through and you're a man of your word and you're genuine, you're authentic in how you communicate with people, they'll support you. I mean even, you know, some Democrats in Wisconsin think he's doing a great job, and that's helpful.
Funny, but aren't those the very same sterling qualities that the legion of Christie 2012 and, now, Christie 2016 supporters have been touting for why Christ Christie is the inevitable choice of the Republican Party? Plain-spoken; says what he means and means what he says; gets stuff done; works in a bipartisan way. It's as if, through an act of prestidigitation, the RNC has put Governor Christie into a very, very big box, waved its magic wand and -- tada! -- out comes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, sort of a "Christie Lite for 2016."
When, near the end of the segment, Priebus was asked about whether it might benefit the Republican Party's prospects in 2016 if some of the more extreme voices in the GOP's head, referring to Mike Huckabee's recent remarks about "women's libidos," were stifled by the RNC or, at least, more-firmly guided, Priebus was adamant about not throwing anyone under the bus. He literally said that. Twice:
I will tell you, I'm not going to be a chairman that throws people under the bus no matter who they are in our party, I mean except for the most-extreme circumstances, and this is not an extreme circumstance. And so, I want to build everybody up in our party. We're not going to divide and subtract, and so, you know, whether it be Governor Huckabee, whether it be Paul Ryan or Rand Paul or Scott Walker, I need to build this party. And, so, that means, you know, trying to lay the groundwork, you know, remind people about tone and word choice, but it also means not throwing people under the bus.
But given that less than a month ago Christ Christie was, perhaps like Obi-Wan Kenobi, the RNC's "only hope" for taking back the White House in the next presidential election, by never mentioning the New Jersey governor in an over ten-minute segment talking about the State of the Union and the ostensible leaders of the party, didn't the RNC Chairman do just that? Didn't Reince Priebus throw Christie under the bus?
If there's anything that's certain from last night's GOP parade of Obama-bashers and this morning's appearance of the Republican National Committee's stalwart chairman, less than two years out from the beginning of the party's process of selecting their next contender for president of the United States, it is that the Republican Party is in a state of disarray.