State of the Union inspires multiple rebuttals again, a phenomenon specific to the Obama era

By Alexa Epitropoulos |

The president’s annual speech was followed by three rebuttals, the official one from Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Tea Party rebuttal from Utah Sen. Mike Lee and one also from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. The multiple rebuttals may reflect a divided Republican Party.

Nell Toensmann, chair of the St. Johns County Democratic Party, says the rebuttals represent more than just divisions.

“There are a lot of people who will disagree with anything and everything the president wants to do only because he’s African American, and also because he’s a Democrat,” Toensmann said.

Toensmann thinks Obama’s leadership threatens the Republican Party’s predominately older, white base.

“A lot of them are older white men who all of a sudden feel challenged in terms of authority,” Toensmann continued. “This, for them, is a big shock. All of a sudden you have African-Americans in power.”

The relatively new phenomenon of multiple Republican rebuttals supports Toensmann’s point, as Obama’s first year in office was also the first year of multiple responses. That year, in 2009, then Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman became the first to deliver a Tea Party response.

Since then, every State of the Union has had at least two rebuttals by various Republicans. Some of the responses have had vastly different messages. While Lee addressed income equality in the Tea Party rebuttal on Tuesday, Paul criticized government spending.

“They see the president as having the bully pulpit, especially for this event,” Toensmann said. “They want to get their word in edgewise.”

Local republicans, however, deny a division within the party.

Sean Mulhall, chair of the St. Johns County Republican Party, says the multiple responses are a result of new technology. Today, he explained, more politicians have the opportunity to express their opinions.

“It’s not that the Republican Party is divided. We have access to media,” Mulhall said. “With the technology we have now, I could stand in my living room and give a response.”

Mulhall thinks the official response was a positive, unifying message for the Republican Party.

“Here is a mother with a child with Down’s Syndrome who set the tone for the differences between Republicans and Democrats,” Mulhall said.

Mulhall said the Tea Party response and Paul’s response were not official Republican responses.

“They were simply explaining their points of view,” Mulhall said. “The party is an organization and it had one response.”

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