Governor Christie made a smart move by declining overtures from Republican leaders that he deliver the GOP’s official response to the president’s State of the Union address tonight.
On the surface, the decision appears out-of-character for Christie, who has built a strong following among Republicans across the nation. Delivering the GOP rebuttal tonight would have given him national exposure on every major television network.
But the rebuttal is not as high profile an event as one may think. Rep. Paul Ryan, the new chair of the House Budget Committee, will deliver the official GOP response tonight, but other party leaders, such as Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are likely to get just as much airtime.
The truth is we rarely remember the individuals who give the official responses to State of the Union speeches — unless they do an awful job. Case in point: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall, who received criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for his response to President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union.
One other important factor that makes Christie’s decision to take a pass this year: In the aftermath of the tragic shootings in Arizona, most Americans are hoping that the nature of discourse among the nation’s leaders will change from bitterly partisan to civil. This is not to say that debate and disagreement are off the table. But given the current atmosphere, now is not the most advantageous time to take the national stage in a setting that by its very nature is confrontational and partisan.