In her Republican response to the State of the Union Tuesday night, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders took dead aim at President Joseph Biden’s age—he’s 80. “It’s time for a new generation in Washington.” Biden was not her only target.

Sanders, Donald Trump’s press secretary for two years, who slammed the media for “fake news,” divided her—and the GOP’s— thoughts into several segments. She delivered the expected Biden bashing. His administration has been, “completely hijacked by the radical left.” The political choice Americans face “is between normal and crazy.”

Watching Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Republican representatives yell out to Biden, “You lie,” she might have something.

Sanders also saluted Trump’s secretive 2018 flight to Iraq to meet American troops fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). She related hearing a soldier tell the then-President that he was the reason he’d joined the Army. (She made no mention of Trump dodging the draft during the Vietnam War.)

But Sanders also conveyed a message from the Republican party aimed squarely at their own “Dear Leader”: We love you. We always will. Stay on the golf course.

Many Republicans maintain the validity of alternative truths, but even Sanders would find it difficult to consider Biden too old for the job (as do many Democrats) but not Trump at 76. Moreover, Biden came off as highly energetic throughout his 72-minute address.

It’s no secret that many Republicans fear Trump might be able to win the nomination if the field is sufficiently large and divided. They also fear that he cannot triumph in the general election. To be candid, few people expected Trump to win the nomination in 2016 let alone the presidency.

The GOP’s problem: how to get this message through Trump’s ego shield. Is the man capable of listening to what other Republicans say? They’re not just tossing out hints. 

This week, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded political action group, announced that it would not back Trump’s candidacy. “The American people have shown that they’re ready to move on . . .”

The Club for Growth, devoted to cutting taxes, left Trump off the guest list for next month’s annual donor retreat. Six prospective GOP presidential candidates will pitch their White House qualifications, including the announced Nikki Haley (former South Carolina governor and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.), Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.

As to Sanders, her SOTU response also touted her own qualifications—not necessarily for 2024 (vice presidential candidate?) but for 2028 or 2032. She trumpeted new legislation she’s proposing to improve education in Arkansas, including raising teachers’ salaries to among the nation’s highest. At forty, she more than planted the seed that “a new generation” includes her.

That said, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni noted, “Giving the rebuttal to a State of the Union address hasn’t lifted those who’ve done it over recent years to the higher offices that many of them sought or dreamed about.” Remember Bobby Jindal?

Republicans want nothing more than to win the White House in 2024. The majority will be glad to revere Donald Trump—so long as he devotes his own special brand of energy to playing golf. They’ll leave him free to mark his scorecard with his own alternative truths.

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  1. Tracy on February 10, 2023 at 11:01 am

    All of this GOP posturing reminds me of the democrat posturing leading up to the 2020 election — lots of talk, lots of loud voices we all knew were saying nothing as they were going to back Sleepy Joe anyway. Same thing this time around…Haley, Sanders, etc all will make a lot of noise and then get in line to back DeSantis (aka the smarter Trump).

    The deficit will continue to massively expand and spending will not be addressed, no matter who wins in 2024.

    Long live the duopoly. What a country….

    Gut Shabbos.

    • David Perlstein on February 10, 2023 at 11:06 am

      Clearly, Tracy, you are not a happy camper. Who will the Libertarians run in 2024?

  2. Collin Edwards on February 10, 2023 at 12:59 pm

    Sanders is not wrong; the choice is, indeed, between normal and crazy…

    • David Perlstein on February 10, 2023 at 1:25 pm

      True that, Collin. I think Democrats and much of the media has been having a good time with that.

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