HILLS: Proper response to the State of the Union address

GOP needs fresh method to deliver message

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Here is a great trivia question: Name the Republican who delivered the GOP’s response to last year’s State of the Union address. And the bonus question: Name one thing that person said.

Give up? Frankly, so should the GOP.

On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. Surprisingly to most people, the Republicans will deliver their response immediately afterward. I say “surprisingly” because the viewing numbers are so low for the opposition party’s response to a State of the Union address, they rival the TV ratings for reruns of “My Mother the Car.”

The truth is that the opposition party’s response to the president’s State of the Union violates virtually every rule of public relations since around 1955. The president speaks to thunderous applause before hundreds of people in one of America’s most historic buildings. The Republicans have one guy seated in a chair next to a potted plant and a green backdrop. Yet we wonder why no one watches?

It’s time the Republicans scrapped their antiquated and unwatched response. Here are a handful of modest suggestions to get our message across.

First, pick a different date. Agreeing to respond on the same day and time as the president guarantees that anything said by the GOP will be relegated to Paragraph 38 of the next day’s story. Instead, Republicans should select their own date, and capture their own news cycle, completely separate from the president. The two parties do not run concurrent national conventions. Why, then, should they select the same date when outlining their vision for the nation?

Second, bring the whole party and find a better venue. Republicans need to escape the broom closet and find a better backdrop for their message. I would suggest using one of the historic buildings in Washington as the location for this event. Invite all Republican representatives, senators, governors and their spouses to attend. Have one senator, one representative and one governor unveil the party’s blueprint for America before an enthusiastic audience.

Third, scrap the response. By definition, a Republican response means our party is reacting to the agenda laid out by Mr. Obama. Why cede the initiative? Instead of a long recitation of all that is wrong with Mr. Obama’s policies, this approach would give Republicans a chance to lay out an optimistic, positive, forward-looking agenda that tackles America’s challenges.

Republicans constantly harken back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan. Perhaps that is because in Reagan’s day, the Republicans were the Party of Ideas. It’s time for the party to reclaim that mantle.

The 2012 elections were tough on Republicans. The good news is that the GOP has 30 governors, which means 30 laboratories to put policies into practice and achieve real results. My home state of Michigan is already seeing positive benefits from the policies of a Republican governor and legislature. GOP governors in the 1990s helped push welfare reform at the national level. There’s no reason why similar successes by Republican governors at the state level today can’t also leverage positive changes in Washington.

We Republicans have a story to tell. Let’s not bury it on late night television after America has gone to bed — unless we like trivia contests.

Rusty Hills is director of public affairs for the Michigan Attorney General.

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