- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fraught with symbolism and stylized urgency, President Obama’s final State of the Union address looms over the nation’s capital like a big school play. Bustling melodrama is the order of the day at the White House, which has already ramped up its social media and promised the speech is “nontraditional.” Mr. Obama will “lay out the ways that we, as the American people, can once again come together in pursuit of a country worthy of generations to come.” The Democratic Party is also upping the dramatic ante, asking loyal followers to sign a public proclamation vowing to watch the speech.

But some will not be there — notably Sen. Ted Cruz, who has opted to campaign in New Hampshire during the speech and its endless moments of applause and tearful approval. Mr. Cruz’s alternative events of choice Tuesday: He’ll stage a Second Amendment rally at a gun range in Hudson, followed by his own “State of Our Union Town Hall Meeting” in Londonderry.

And that’s that. Fellow presidential hopefuls remain dutiful, however: Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders will all be present and accounted for when Mr. Obama takes to the mighty podium.

WHAT TRUMP WOULD SAY

If Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump were offering the State of the Union, here are a few points he’d touch upon, as told to NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

“I want to build our military bigger and better and stronger than ever before. I want to take care of our veterans. I want to take care of them. They’re being taken care of horribly. I want to create borders so that we have a country — because, right now, we don’t have a country. We have borders where people just walk across and do whatever they want to do, and then they have babies and the babies become citizens, and we have to take care of them. We’re going to do many, many things that are going to make America great again. That’s what I want to do.”

Mr. Trump will be at a jumbo rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa, during President Obama’s speech, incidentally.

THE TEA PARTY BREWS A REBUTTAL

Now approaching the seventh anniversary of the tea party’s dramatic founding, the grass-roots organization will offer its own rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address — this according to the Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest tea party political action committee. The man at the microphone will be columnist, author and uber-fiscal conservative Wayne Allyn Root.

“2016 has become the year of the outsider as the public continues to show strong support in the presidential contest for candidates that eschew connections with the Washington establishment,” says the group’s strategist and co-founder Sal Russo. “So it is appropriate for the Tea Party Express to select a Washington outsider.”

THE TENACIOUS MR. KASICH

He’s moving forward in the Republican fray. In his quest for the White House, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has landed a significant endorsement from Sen. Rob Portman, who will also serve as national chairman for the hopeful’s campaign. Mr. Portman, whose name was bandied about as a presidential contender four years ago, praises his fellow Ohioan’s common-sense and conservative values.

Mr. Kasich has also won endorsements from former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and former Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire. The candidate campaigns in Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina and New Hampshire this week alone.

Mr. Kasich languished in the polls for months but now appears to be gaining traction. A survey of Granite State voters conducted by NH1 News poll recently found Donald Trump in first place with 26 percent of the vote, with Mr. Kasich and Jeb Bush in second place, both with 12 percent. Mr. Kasich was among candidates with “the biggest gains” in the last month, says Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling — which found that the Ohio hopeful garnered 11 percent of the vote and made “notable gains” in his favorability ratings.

GUARDIAN OF THE PLANET

If a monster asteroid is headed toward Earth, perhaps the planet is a little more prepared. NASA announced Friday that the Planetary Defense Coordination Office is now open for business, tasked with a succinct mission: to track and characterize all asteroids and comets that veer too close to Earth — and figure out a response to “potential impact threats.”

And yes, the U.S. now has a designated Planetary Defense Officer.

“The agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense,” said Lindley Johnson, who now has that official title.

KALETOPIA

A cultural moment to consider. In a french-fry-centric industry, Chick-fil-A is one of the very few fast-food restaurants to add bona fide superfoods kale and broccolini to its menu. The low-calorie “Superfood Side” will be introduced next week — a blend of hand-chopped kale and broccolini, tossed in a tangy maple vinaigrette dressing and topped with dried sour cherries. It is served with a blend of roasted walnuts, almonds and pecans and weighs in at a scant 140 calories.

The conscientious company recommends pairing the fresh dish with its grilled chicken nuggets and a zero-calorie beverage, for a paltry total of 280 calories.

POLL DU JOUR

• 65 percent of Americans say House Speaker Paul Ryan “compromises to get things done”; 71 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of independents and 56 percent of Democrats agree.

• 35 percent overall say he “sticks to his principles no matter what”; 29 percent of Republicans, 31 percent of independents and 44 percent of Democrats agree.

• 31 percent overall approve of the job he is doing; 45 percent of Republicans, 24 percent of independents and 28 percent of Democrats agree.

• 32 percent overall disapprove of the job he is doing; 31 percent of Republicans, 28 percent of independents and 36 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: An Economist/YouGov poll of 1,900 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 18-21 and released Thursday.

Cheers, jeers to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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