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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — Republicans took multiple tries to deliver their reaction to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.

In addition to the officially sanctioned Republican Party response by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and a Spanish-language version by Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Tea Party Express faction continued its practice of delivering a separate speech, this year by Utah Senator Mike Lee.

And Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had delivered the Tea Party Express response last year, staked out his own turf this year with a YouTube address. Nor was that the only response from his family. His father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, held an interactive town hall with supporters during and after the address.

For a party fighting the perception it’s at war with itself, the competing speeches were an unwelcome and very public reminder of the divisions that remain. Although including some common themes focused on the economy and smaller government, the rival addresses highlighted the intraparty battles that could undermine the GOP’s chances of winning key Senate contests in upcoming elections.

“I wish we’d speak with one voice. I really do,” said Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “The American people need to have one message from the Republican Party.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the first woman to deliver a Republican response to the annual presidential address, said party unity is not what it was when she rebutted Bill Clinton’s 1995 speech. “It’s pretty indicative of where the party is these days,” she said. “It’s spread all over the place, and that’s a challenge. It’s a real problem.”

In what was billed as the “Republican Address to the Nation,” McMorris Rodgers said she wanted to share “a more hopeful, Republican vision — one that empowers you, not the government.”

Like the other Republican responses, she acknowledged the growing opportunity gap among Americans, but blamed Obama. “Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder,” she said. “Republicans have plans to close the gap.”

She also addressed the troubled rollout of Obamacare, and signaled the party would offer its own alternate plan. “No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but the president’s healthcare law is not working.”

In more brash terms, Lee outlined what he called a “new conservative reform agenda,” citing policy ideas from a rising generation of leaders, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. He said the economic inequality Obama spoke of was the result of a government that “takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats and special interests.”

But rather than seek to build GOP support, Lee chastised his own party, targeting his words to “those Americans who may feel they have been forgotten by both political parties. . . . To be fair, President Obama and his party did not create all of these problems. The Republican establishment in Washington can be just as out of touch as the Democratic establishment.”

In addition to Republican disunity, the multiplicity of responses was a byproduct of fast-growing social media platforms, which have opened new venues for old-fashioned political egos and allowed lawmakers to easily and cheaply circulate their opinions.

In the past, if more conservative Republicans wanted to get their own message out, they had to purchase 60 seconds of air time on television networks. On Tuesday, Paul simply had to record some remarks at the Senate’s recording studio and have a staffer upload it to YouTube. The Tea Party Express streamed Lee’s address, delivered at the National Press Club, through its website, which also served as a way to collect email addresses from potential contributors.

Obama may have helped spawn the trend in 2008, when he — as a tech-savvy presidential candidate — released his own personal response to George W. Bush’s final State of the Union address.

No matter how it’s done, staging a response that can compete with the pomp of a presidential address to Congress is always an impossible task for the party out of power — the political equivalent of watching a Super Bowl champion crowned at midfield, then cutting to the loser’s locker room to hear from the other team’s coach.

In recent years, Republican responses have been noted more for glitches and mishaps than for what was said. Remember Michele Bachmann’s looking into the wrong camera in 2011 when she delivered the Tea Party Express response? Marco Rubio’s awkward reach for a bottle of Poland Spring water last year?

The potential for an embarrassing viral moment like Rubio’s hasn’t dimmed other politicians’ interest in attempting to grab a bit of the spotlight, however. Although the Republican Party has complained that the Tea Party response overshadows their primary messenger, the GOP this year set up stations at the Capitol for rank-and-file members to record short video responses after the speech that can be posted to Vine, a Twitter-owned mobile app.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) purchased TV air time during this year’s speech coverage to highlight her personal campaign for stricter gun laws.

When asked if the official rebuttal speech has outlived its usefulness, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, who delivered the Democrats’ 2006 response to Bush, joked, “I think people question whether the State of the Union and the response has outlived its usefulness. You can make an argument either way.”

Photo: republicanconference/Flickr

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]