The GOP's State of the Union strategy: Drown out the president's message

Chris Moody
Political Reporter

Every year, the State of the Union Address grants the president of the United States a marvelous opportunity to promote and outline a concise and unified agenda in front of a captivated audience of Congress and the nation.

Those without the executive power — in this case, the Republican Party — don’t have a single equivalent opportunity to share their message.

But together, they certainly try.

As part of the circus of the modern State of the Union Address, Republicans are launching a messaging blitz to respond to President Barack Obama’s Tuesday address using nearly every available tool they have. Gone are the days when the party without keys to the White House delivered merely one post-SOTU response. Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, will do the honors with the “official” party response this year. She’ll be competing, however, with the tea party response by Utah Sen. Mike Lee via Tea Party Express, while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul delivers an entire alternative speech. Last year, Paul delivered the tea party response in coordination with the same group, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann gave it in 2012 before launching her short-lived presidential bid.

On the morning before the speech, Republican House Speaker John Boehner will get the first crack at setting the day's narrative when he joins his deputies, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and two other GOP lawmakers for a gathering of the press to have their say about the address.

Their voices will be reinforced by an army of Republican lawmakers, surrogates, pundits and activists, who will also offer “pre-buttals” to the president’s anticipated remarks throughout the day. Republicans will also prepare “rapid response teams” tasked with vetting Obama’s every word, and they will dispatch responders to television networks across the country to push back on his message once it’s over. Democrats, of course, adopt similar approaches when Republicans hold the presidency. Of course, they’ll be sending their own surrogates to debate with Republicans throughout the day as well.

For many political groups, the State of the Union is an all-hands-on-deck event for GOP message-makers Some actually began their “response” efforts days before. For more than a week, the Republican National Committee has released “research briefs” criticizing Obama’s record on jobs, the economy, the national debt, foreign affairs and other policy areas. Hours before the speech on Tuesday, the party will hold a press conference that showcases “constituents who have been negatively affected by ObamaCare,” whom GOP lawmakers invited to sit in the chamber during Obama’s remarks. The party will dispatch its chairman, Reince Priebus, and other surrogates to fill up airways on radio and television political affairs shows. On Monday it even released a video suggesting that people should skip Obama’s address altogether and watch reality TV shows instead.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the official party group tasked with electing GOP members to the House, plans to post 11 staffers on a rapid response team to blast out a flurry of tweets, graphics, memes and fact checks during the address.

Other outside groups on the right plan to release their own responses.

As a wide-ranging group of voices, the message sent by Republicans and their allies in the conservative movement can’t possibly be as unified as the president’s. Naturally, having a multitude of responses risks clouding the party’s intended message.

But together, they can at least attempt to drown out the voice from the bully pulpit.

Or at least make it harder to hear him.