There is perhaps no bit of American political theater more overrated in its importance than the president's annual State of the Union address. Sure, it's a great opportunity for the president to use the bully pulpit to his advantage, but more often than not it just reinforces the political biases of Democrats and Republicans.
However, to that latter point, President Joe Biden did enjoy one nice benefit from his 73-minute speech last night. Thanks to the caucus of House Republicans boorishly heckling him as if they were at a football game, Biden came off as confident, optimistic, and…normal, by comparison. He was the proverbial adult in the room, promoting a message that not all Americans will agree with, but at the very least sought to address their major concerns.
'Liar!' 'Bullshit!': GOP Slaps Away Biden's Bipartisan Olive Branch
In contrast, there was the GOP's State of the Union response, delivered by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who also happened to have been former President Donald Trump's press secretary from 2017 to 2019.
After a midterm campaign in which Republican candidates underperformed across the board, due in large measure to the party's embrace of culture war politics at the expense of kitchen table issues, the newly inaugurated Arkansas governor offered more of the same.
According to Huckabee Sanders, Biden is "the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can't even tell you what a woman is, "adding that his administration has been completely hijacked by the radical left."
"In the radical left's America," Sanders said, our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country."
But the primary objective of her speech was to make it plain what the choice is for the American voter: "The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy."
And in Gov. Sanders' assessment, "the Biden administration is doubling down on crazy" and the majority of Americans who "simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace" are besieged by "a left-wing culture war we didn't start and never wanted to fight."
If the governor's vision wasn't already sufficiently apocalyptic, she continued: "Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags, and worship their false idols…all while big government colludes with Big Tech to strip away the most American thing there is-your freedom of speech."
Here's my question: to whom is this messaging supposed to appeal?
Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom's Pissing Contest Is Culture War Idiocy
Sanders' speech seemed to be aimed almost exclusively at those Americans who are already voting Republican or who spend their day watching Fox News. Do most Americans think they are "under attack in a left-wing culture war"? Who outside the conservative fever swamp nods their head at the charge that the Biden administration "has been completely hijacked by the radical left" or that he's "surrender(ed) his presidency to a woke mob"?
And what objective observer of American politics thinks the party of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, and Donald Trump is America's "normal" party?
Even if you disagreed with the sentiments in Biden's State of the Union address, it's hard to argue that it wasn't attuned to issues Americans actually care about-and understand.
For example, Biden spent a chunk of his speech talking about his administration's efforts to reduce junk fees like exorbitant bank charges for overdrafts and bounced checks, resort fees at hotels, and the excessive charges tacked on to concerts and sports tickets. As small bore as it might seem, issues like this resonate far more with Americans than yet another Republican diatribe about border security or the evils of wokeness.
Republicans love to argue that they are the voice of real America and not the coastal elites whom they constantly deride. But, when you listen to these two speeches back-to-back, it's Republicans who sound out-of-touch and consumed by their pet social issues. For all the GOP claims that Democrats are obsessed with wokeness, it's Republicans who spend far more time talking about them.
To take just one example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis-a 2024 GOP primary frontrunner-has declared his state the place where "wokeness goes to die" and even named one of his signature pieces of legislation the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act."
One of the results of that legislation is that Florida elementary schools are pulling literally hundreds of books off their library shelves. Kind of hard to square all that with Sanders defense of "freedom of speech" or her assertion that "Democrats want to rule us with more government control." But put aside the hypocrisy for a second: does anyone think Americans care more about issues like this than accessible health care, good paying jobs or even Ticketmaster putting huge fees on concert tickets?
Sanders' speech captures the Republican Party's entire political problem in a nutshell-and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. The GOP simply has no economic or cultural message that appeals to non-Republicans.
All its party members know how to do is preach to the converted. They have no policy agenda, it seems, other than divisive culture war issues or trying to own the libs. They have no economic agenda, no health care plans, and no ideas for easing the burdens on middle-class families.
That's not a partisan statement. It's a fact.
This is a party, after all, that in 2020 didn't bother to come up with a policy platform at the Republican National Convention. In 2022, their policy agenda was little more than platitudes. That lack of policy infrastructure has reduced the party to finger-to-the-wind politics-seizing on the issues of the day, be it drag shows or gas stoves, to excite their base.
As a friend said to me last night, it's "comment section as legislator."
The State of Biden's Presidency Is Stronger Than It Looks to Voters
It's easy to focus on Trump as the crux of the GOP's political problems (and he is undoubtedly a problem). But the bigger issue is that the modern Republican Party is fundamentally disconnected from the average American voter.
The party is stuck in an echo chamber and focused on divisive cultural issues that might get attention on social media but don't resonate with most Americans. Republicans are unwittingly feeding an image of themselves as a party of kooks that would rather bleat about "the libs" than meaningfully address issues that effect people's daily lives. And while Democrats push an optimistic, aspirational message about America's future, Republicans come across as pessimists and scolds.
Don't get me wrong: Republicans have a pretty big Donald Trump problem. But, their bigger dilemma is that they aren't a serious political party. Until the GOP fixes this problem (and I'm not sure how they do that), they will have a hard time winning national elections any time soon.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.
Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.