Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will deliver his party's official response to President Obama's State of the Union address next week, a senior GOP source confirms.
Ryan, one of his party's leading deficit hawks, has won praise from many -- including the president -- for his willingness to outline specific proposals for reducing the national debt.
He's produced a much-discussed "Roadmap for America's Future," a package of long-term austerity measures aimed at eliminating the deficit over the next half-century, includes sweeping and controversial proposals, such as privatizing Medicare. The specificity of the proposal helped convince pundits that Republicans had ideas to back up pledges of spending cuts and but it gave Democrats an excuse to accuse the GOP of wanting to cut entitlement benefits.
As Ryan prepares his rebuttal, an intriguing tidbit has emerged. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Ryan was not the GOP brass' first choice. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was, but he turned down the opportunity:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) turned down an offer to rebut President Obama's State of the Union address, according to a top Christie adviser.
Bill Palatucci told The Star Ledger that the Republican leadership in Washington contacted the governor's office to see if Christie had any interest in giving the party's official response Tuesday night. The answer was no.
"They tried to see if there was some interest and there wasn't any," Palatucci told the paper. "The governor is in the midst of his legislative agenda. There's no reason to try to get involved in federal issues."
Christie has established himself as one of the most media savvy players on the contemporary political scene. He's demonstrated the ability to effectively sway public opinion using a potent combination of targeted media appearances, townhall meetings, and viral youtube videos. He's also shown a willingness to be a team player for his party, traveling across the country to stump for Republican candidates in advance of last fall's elections.
But Christie also knows how and when to say no. When invited to meet with conservative media star Glenn Beck, the governor demurred. Now he's reportedly rebuffed party leaders' offer to deliver the high-profile State of the Union response. (By contrast, Christie received, and accepted, a White House invitation to attend last week's State Dinner honoring Chinese president Hu Jintao).
Some conservatives may criticize or question Christie's motives for passing up this opportunity. I won't join that chorus. Rightly or wrongly, I have taken the governor at his word that he has no interest in running for president in 2012. If he had voluntarily assumed the conspicuous role of squaring off against President Obama tomorrow evening, Christie's decision would inevitably have touched off another round of presidential speculation -- which he seems eager to shake.
Christie and his advisers are also mindful that he is contending with the duel (and unenviable) tasks of (a) fixing a broken state, and (b) securing re-election in said broken, blue state. If Christie believes -- reasonably, in my estimation -- that treading too heavily into national politics could ultimately undermine his more immediate goals, he made a wise choice by saying "no thanks" to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.