For State Of The Union's Responders, The Warm Glow Often Fades Fast Who could turn down what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to speak to the entire nation right after the president?

For State Of The Union's Responders, The Warm Glow Often Fades Fast

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After the president delivers the State of the Union address tomorrow night, the opposition party will have its turn. And NPR's Ron Elving has a message for the person chosen to deliver it this year.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Congratulations, Stacey Abrams. You are this year's winner of Washington's most dubious political prize.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Ron, why is this Washington's most dubious political prize?

ELVING: Because it has been given to a succession of people in both parties over the years who seem to be rising stars. And in several cases, there's been a real downturn in the trajectory.

SHAPIRO: There are so many bad examples to choose from. Where should we begin?

ELVING: Well, let's begin in 2009. The first response to Barack Obama was by Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former congressman.


BOBBY JINDAL: Good evening, and happy Mardi Gras. I'm Bobby Jindal.

ELVING: He seemed ill at ease. He said some impolitic things even about Republican positions.

SHAPIRO: People described him as looking young, looking a little bit out of place. The lobby of the governor's mansion that he's in looks a bit like a hotel.

ELVING: And it's just not an equal footing with the president standing there in the Capitol in front of the entire Congress and most of the federal establishment.


JINDAL: Sometimes it seems like we look for hope in different places.

SHAPIRO: He then ran for president, kind of fizzled out early on. And we haven't heard much from him since.

ELVING: That's right. There is no question but that his career was never the same after that night.

SHAPIRO: Who else seemed to fumble the ball?

ELVING: You would have to say that this was not a great moment for Marco Rubio and his hydration station back in 2013 when he was the responder. And he was doing a pretty good job, but then he had a little moment of dry mouth and didn't have the water bottle close enough.

SHAPIRO: OK, to give the play by play here, he's sort of wiping his mouth.


MARCO RUBIO: On foreign policy, America continues...

SHAPIRO: You can hear he needs a little more saliva than he's got.


RUBIO: Nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the one the president laid out tonight.

SHAPIRO: And then there's the reach.


SHAPIRO: (Laughter).


RUBIO: The choice isn't just between...

ELVING: He just has to. And there's a desperation in both the lunge and the grab. And his eyes flick up at the camera.

SHAPIRO: He almost never breaks eye contact with the camera even as he's reaching off-screen.

ELVING: But there's a change in the expression in his eyes when he looks back up as if to say, you didn't see that, did you?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) We should also say - I want to be bipartisan in our criticism, but for eight of the last 10 years, President Barack Obama was delivering the address, and so the response was coming from Republicans, which is why this criticism seems to be a bit disproportionately pointed at the GOP.


MICHELE BACHMANN: Good evening. My name is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann from Minnesota's 6th District.

SHAPIRO: A lot of the people we're talking about have run for president - Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal - and another who delivered the State of the Union response, although it wasn't the official opposition response - it was the Tea Party response - Michele Bachmann.


BACHMANN: The Tea Party is a dynamic force for good in our...

ELVING: Michele Bachmann really wanted to keep herself in front of the public eye. The problem is she didn't get herself in front of the public camera.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) As she delivers this response, she's gazing right up over and to the side of the camera that is staring her in the face.

ELVING: She's appealing for the vote of my taller friend.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).


BACHMANN: Reduce the deficit, and implement real job-creating policy.

SHAPIRO: Can you point to somebody who did this well, who could actually serve as a model for people hoping not to do a face plant in their State of the Union response?

ELVING: Cathy McMorris Rodgers, congresswoman from Spokane, Wash., who was at the time a rising star in the House Republican leadership - she gave the response in 2014 to President Obama.


CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS: Tonight we honor America.

ELVING: And she spoke to camera very calmly and reassuringly, spoke of her being a mother, talked about her life in Washington state.


MCMORRIS RODGERS: Where a girl who worked at the McDonald's drive-through can be with you from the United States Capitol.

ELVING: It was reassuring. It was warm. It was personable.

SHAPIRO: She's sort of in a living room on a couch with a fireplace behind her.

ELVING: This speech was a big boost for her.

SHAPIRO: Tomorrow night - Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia, was unsuccessful, has never held federal office and is delivering the response on behalf of the Democrats.

ELVING: That's right. She's a black woman, and she is at 45 a relatively young politician. She is really the spirit of the rising Democratic vote that we saw in November of 2018.

SHAPIRO: OK, so - advice for Stacey Abrams beyond drink water; look at the right camera.

ELVING: Keep it brief. Make it about the people who are watching it and not so much about the back and forth between the parties over the shutdown or any specific issue. Make it as positive and as brief and to the point as possible.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Ari.

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