Douglas MacKinnon

WASHINGTON - Republican leaders in Congress have selected newly seated Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to deliver the GOP response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address this evening. For a host of practical and political reasons, as well as real-world experience and substance, McDonnell seems an excellent choice.

Given that, as one who has worked on a few presidential campaigns and who has drafted my share of speeches, I have long had a complaint about the response to the State of the Union address. That being -- at least on the GOP side -- it's almost always an opportunity lost.

This year, more than most, I believe the American people are going to afford the Republican response much more attention. The very elections of McDonnell, New Jersey Gov. Christie, and now Scott Brown in Massachusetts, clearly demonstrate that not only are the American people on edge and looking for accountability, but they are much more engaged than in past cycles. As such, it's critical that the GOP -- through the presence and character of McDonnell -- make an impression that not only resonates, but lasts.

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Unfortunately, part of what goes into a lasting impression is the stage-craft of the event. President Obama is going to be afforded good lighting, a well-written speech, and an obedient audience in the majority Democratic members who are going to continually jump up and applaud -- both sincerely and on command -- his every utterance. To not have such similar stage-crafting is a huge mistake. Two examples jump quickly to mind on the Republican side. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal last year and Bob Dole in 1996 -- both with essentially the same set of problems.

Back in 1996 when my old boss Bob Dole delivered the response to President Clinton's State of the Union address, he did so alone from his Senate office in the Capitol. Many people thought the lighting was not only too dark, but somewhat foreboding. For me, worse than what in fact was very bad lighting, was that he gave the address alone, emoting only to the cold and uncaring lens of a network camera. Because of that flawed tactic, and before Dole spoke his first word, Clinton had already won the night.


Douglas MacKinnon

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and author of The Secessionist States of America. (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014)

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