Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is the Latest Casualty of the State of the Union Rebuttal Curse

Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives the rebuttal to the State of the Union speech. (Credit: Townhall)
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Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the rebuttal to President Biden’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, and like many of her predecessors, she did herself no favors. The speech was good, mind you—on Fox, Democrat Harold Ford called it “formidable”—it’s the production itself that continues to haunt those who take on the duty.



The SOTU rebuttal, given by a member of the opposing party after the president’s Capitol Hill remarks, is a thankless assignment that has proven to be a disaster for many politicians who were tapped to speak after the main event. Without the pomp and circumstance of the setting, a vocal audience, the presence of the Supreme Court, the gravitas of a designated survivor, the wall-to-wall network coverage, the endless applause and glad-handing, these speeches often tend to be played in front of a limited or sometimes even non-existent audience—and often feel funereal.

In Sanders’ case, she delivered her remarks from a living room setting, with no audience—and therefore no energy—sitting in a chair and speaking directly to the camera. I like Sanders, but this format did her no favors, and quite simply seemed like she was reading a bedtime story (my wife pointed out her dress looked like a hotel bathrobe and now I can’t unsee that).

Since it was clear the point was to contrast the GOP’s youth and vitality with Biden’s age and early bedtimes, who thought placing Sanders in a chair to suck up all her charisma was a good idea?


She was moving, however, in talking about her recent thyroid cancer scare, and we wish her the best.

Not a whole lot of good can come out of these rebuttals, though—mostly people just remember the ones that went badly. Only four people delivered such a speech and later went on to become president: Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Joe Biden. (By the way, Sanders’ fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton’s speech was infomercial style and was spectacularly cringe.)

For others, their careers were never the same. Remember rising star Joe Kennedy III’s 2018 speech from a garage, in which he was remembered for unfortunate drool as much as for anything he said?


The Washington Post wrote back in 2015:

People only remember the response to the State of the Union when it goes badly. (It’s kind of like NFL refereeing —  memorable only in its poor execution.)  Like it did for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who displayed about as much charisma as Steve Urkel when he delivered the response in 2009.

Jindal’s career was never the same:


Marco Rubio’s attempt in 2013 was similarly a disaster, and although his career survived and he’s currently a sitting United States Senator from Florida, he was nevertheless relentlessly mocked for his unquenchable thirst:


The State of the Union response can be the place where dreams go to die. For Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, it wasn’t a disaster—as I said the content of her remarks was actually good—but it’s a mystery to me why politicians on both sides of the aisle have continued this tradition, and not updated into a more modern format. Have you heard of Hollywood production values?

Whatever you think of Hollywood, they know what they’re doing, and there are plenty of conservative storytellers, set designers, and stylists who would have helped their team to put their best foot forward.


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