Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Invisible Primary: SoTU Edition!

It’s the biggest night in Washington, if you exclude Election Night, the Radio/ TV Correspondents’ Dinner, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the National Christmas Tree lighting, the Gridiron Dinner, a White House State Dinner, and the annual meeting of the Alfalfa Club. Yes, it’s the (seventh or eighth) biggest night in the city: State of the Union! Or, if you are into acronyms: SoTU.

Tonight President Obama addresses a joint session of congress, plus the Supreme Court, plus the Joint Chiefs, plus the Cabinet (minus one player-to-be-named-later), plus Ted Nugent to lay out his agenda for the coming year. The leaked parts suggest a speech about the middle class, jobs, and troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The drinking games have begun that guess who sits next to FLOTUS, whether Rep. Eliot Engle (D-NY) will get to shake Obama’s hand, and how long the speech will last. The Invisible Primary games have begun to focus on the reaction to the speech.

The Iowa mini-Invisible Primary dynamic that my smart friend Dave blogged about a few postings below comes to the big screen tonight: The GOP-- Tea Party rumble that threatens to divide the party. What does the SoTU have to do with this? The official speech rejoinders! From the right, Florida senator Marco Rubio will deliver the Republican Response to the president’s SoTU speech and from further right, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will deliver the Tea Party response. This is not unprecedented (Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain have done the Tea Party response before) but it does speak to the Invisible Primary because we all know that Rubio and Paul have their eyes locked on 2016. What better way to position yourself for The Show than by giving a nationalized one-way refutation of your ideological opponent? In this case, the rebuff hits Obama and also goes intra-party, which gets to the interesting part.

Partisan squabbling is, of course, one point of the Invisible Primary, as Dave points out so well below. As we watch the possible contenders jockey for position and attention and (perhaps most important) money, it helps to shape the upcoming field. This highlights the nationalization of elections and the nature of modern American politics as much as it highlights the factions within the GOP. One terrific book on the Tea Party comes from Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson who warn against underestimating their strength and lasting power. Paul’s stage tonight proves their point.

These two responses also underscore the various mechanisms in place to work the Invisible Primary system – that Sens. Rubio and Paul can capture the national attention on such a big night indicates their strength as 2016 contenders. They will seem serious and hard-hitting, arguing that they are the men who can lead the country into a new era, one presumably better than the one we’re in right now. The reaction (both in the press and from the public) to both men will be interesting and predictive to watch.

To end on a funny note: Andy Borowitz had a clever post about Paul’s Tea Party rebuttal, and Ted Nugent’s SoTU appearance is just plain hilarious on its own merits, thanks to his NRA interview last April where he said: “[I]f Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Or attending the president’s State of the Union.  

I know. I know.

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