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Hmm: Huckabee Sanders Calls for 'New Generation' of Republicans to Lead, Brands GOP as Normal Over Crazy

Al Drago/Bloomberg, Pool

Before we move on completely from the news blip that was the State of the Union Address – ratings were down substantially from last year – I thought I'd offer a few thoughts on Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' GOP response. Everyone always says it's a tough gig that always pales in comparison to the main event, which is true, and some talented people have flopped in the role. But the last few Republican responses have ranged from very good (Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina) to really solid (Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa), and SHS did well, too. 

The shot looked nice, the delivery was strong and well-paced, and the content hit on some key themes. Mentioning her mother's and her own fight against cancer near the beginning was a humanizing touch, and her closing story about a top secret trip to visit US troops in a war zone was compelling. Some of her hits against President Biden and the Democrats were punchier than usual in this sort of setting, and she didn't shy away from hot-button issues while accusing the opposition of being weird aggressors in the culture wars. If Biden's elbows were a little sharper than normal in his address, so were Huckabee Sanders'.

Here is the full speech, in case you missed it:

She certainly leaned into the generational shift point pretty heavily, noting that she is the youngest governor in the country while Joe Biden is the oldest president in the country's history. She returned to the need for newer, younger leadership on several occasions, including in these passages:

"It is time for a new generation of Republican leadership...It’s time for a new generation to lead. This is our moment. This is our opportunity. A new generation born in the waning decades of the last century, shaped by economic booms and stock market busts, forged by the triumph of the Cold War and the tragedy of 9/11. A generation brimming with passion and new ideas to solve age-old problems. A generation moored to our deepest values and oldest traditions, yet unafraid to challenge the present order and find a better way forward. If we seize this moment together, America can once again be the land of the free and home of the brave...President Biden and the Democrats have failed you. It’s time for a change. A New Generation of Republican leaders is stepping up… not to be caretakers of the status quo, but to be changemakers for the American people."

That was obviously aimed primarily at Biden, but doesn't it also apply to another certain aging Boomer, for whom Huckabee Sanders famously worked? One wonders how some of those sentiments were received inside Mar-a-Lago. Perhaps they went unnoticed because the former president was too preoccupied with his increasingly desperate pastime of recycling failed left-wing smears against Ron DeSantis (to which DeSantis has responded ably, regarding a subject on which Trump may not want to linger very much longer). But a key line in Huckabee Sanders' remarks was this frame-up of the current state of American politics: 

”Whether Joe Biden believes this madness or is simply too weak to resist it, his administration has been completely hijacked by the radical left. The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy."

She's correct that the party seen as more normal and less crazy will win a lot of votes. But the two major parties seem locked in a destructive Crazy Olympics competition right now, with so many incentives against normalcy dominating partisan politics and media. If Republicans were seen as a normal, non-crazy alternative to Democrats' myriad failures, 2022 would have gone rather differently than it did. Instead, we saw an underperformance of historic proportions, with some clear lessons emerging that may or may not be learned. The Wall Street Journal editorial board is right about this

The President’s biggest problem is that all of his legislative victories haven’t delivered the benefits he promised. The $1.9 trillion Covid bill in March 2021 added so much cash to the economy that it helped to trigger an historic inflation. The result is that most Americans haven’t had a raise in their income after inflation in two years. This takes a shine off the low unemployment rate every time people hit the grocery store. They can see that the nearly $500 billion in spending and tax subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 had nothing at all to do with reducing inflation. Americans also observe a fraying social consensus that has them worried about the country. Crime may not be as high as it was in the 1990s, but it has risen sharply in big cities. The record migrant surge across the border would be less worrisome if Mr. Biden seemed to care about stopping it. The fentanyl scourge isn’t his fault, but its breadth betrays a troubling decay in values...All of which is to say that there’s ample reason for voters to be skeptical of Mr. Biden’s expansive claims of presidential success. He’s lucky the opposition Republicans can’t get their act together or he’d be in far more trouble.

Normal and not crazy is a winning brand these days. Being less crazy than the leftward-lurching, hyper-woke Democrats should be a low bar to clear for Republicans, who have nevertheless struggled to do so. Crack that code, and some resounding victories could be in the offing – if, that is, the party and its voters are serious enough to actually want them.  

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