Marco Rubio Agrees to Take One For the Team

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Jonathan Bernstein asks the question of the day:

Marco Rubio is going to give the Republican response to Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address this year. My only question: Why? Why would he want to do that?

The SOTU response is, basically, a no-win proposition. It’s very difficult to give it well. After all, the president of the United States has such a huge advantage, speaking in the House chamber with a cheering audience, usually for an extended time. Out parties have tried a variety of formats, but none of them comes close to matching the democratic pageant of the SOTU — and by the time the response is given, no one really wants to sit still for another speech, anyway.

If I were a rising political star, I would run, not walk, if party leaders asked me to give the SOTU response. My kid has a piano recital that night. It’s my anniversary. Anything. I think you’d have to be nuts to agree to do this.

That said, I’m curious to see what Rubio comes up with. As near as I can tell, he’s lately decided that his niche is to be a smart, non-crazy brand of Republican. During the Benghazi hearings, he asked actual substantive questions, rather than joining the conspiracy theory fever swamp with the rest of the panel. On immigration, he’s making the rounds of talk shows trying to build support for a compromise with Democrats. He seems to believe—rightly or wrongly, I’m not sure—that he’s enough of a conservative darling that he can get away with this.

The SOTU response would be an ideal forum to push ahead with this program. It’ll be a little hard to tell if he takes advantage of it, since SOTU responses tend not to be too fire-breathing in the first place, but there should be hints. Does he judiciously agree with a few of Obama’s proposals? Does he go out of his way to propose compromises? Does he offer any hints of heterodoxy on a national stage? Reading the tea leaves on this should be interesting.

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