On Tuesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Republican governor of Arkansas, will respond to President Biden’s State of the Union address. Most Americans know Sanders from her time as President Trump’s White House press secretary. From the podium in the briefing room, she fought with reporters, which makes her the best person to give a response in a high-stakes situation.
As the country’s youngest sitting governor and Arkansas’s first female governor, she will be a stark contrast to President Biden, who is 80 years old. She will also represent a new generation of the Republican Party.
But the choice of Sanders shows how hard the party is still trying to get away from Trump. Even though House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will say that Bernie Sanders is the future of the GOP, it’s clear that part of the reason they chose her was to avoid upsetting the former president. Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) or Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.), who are rising stars in the GOP and could run against Trump in the primary in 2024, would have probably set Trump off on a Truth Social rant.
Even though giving the rebuttal address is a big chance to shine in front of a large audience, it has often seemed like a curse. The most memorable responses to the State of the Union are usually the ones that go wrong, like when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) awkwardly paused in 2013 to take a drink from a water bottle.
After the expected “red wave” didn’t happen in the 2022 midterms and after McCarthy’s chaotic run for speaker, the Republican response to the State of the Union is a chance to change their message before the 2024 election. Sanders should not focus on culture war complaints that might get Fox News viewers excited. Instead, he should offer solutions to the most important problems that Americans, especially young voters, are facing.
Some estimates say that by 2024, millennial and Gen-Z voters could make up as much as 40 percent of all voters. If the GOP keeps going hard after “woke” culture war issues, it could turn off younger voters and hurt its chances in future elections at a time when some people think the GOP has become extreme or not serious.
Republicans need to keep their eyes on the ball and show that they can get things done, especially when it comes to the economy. Before the midterm elections, inflation was the biggest worry for young Americans, as it has been for months in polls of all ages and backgrounds.
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Biden is likely to paint a rosy picture of the economy and put the blame for his misguided policies on someone else, but the truth for most Americans is painful. Recent polls show that almost eight out of ten Americans think the economy is bad or only fair, and that 75 percent are very worried about the prices of food and consumer goods.
At a time when it seems like the GOP is having trouble figuring out who it is, the response to the State of the Union will give the party a much-needed chance to change its direction on the national stage and give the American people a clear policy plan. Even though it may not be a big deal to most Americans, it is a step toward making a unified message for 2024.
Maybe Sanders can go against the odds and give a really great State of the Union speech that people will remember. But Sanders might do best if he gives a speech that no one remembers and in which he makes no big mistakes.
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