Can Joni Ernst avoid the GOP's State of the Union curse?

Iowa Republican will rebut Obama after next Tuesday's address. She doesn't exactly have big shoes to fill

Published January 15, 2015 8:30PM (EST)

Joni Ernst                   (AP/Justin Hayworth)
Joni Ernst (AP/Justin Hayworth)

Horrified by the election of ultraconservative Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) last November? Then you'll like this news: Ernst has been chosen to deliver the Republican Party's official response to President Obama's State of the Union next week, a distinction that has turned into something of a political kiss of death for a handful of up-and-coming Republicans in the Obama era.

The freshman senator's selection was announced at the GOP's legislative retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Thursday. Ernst, a hog-castrating, Harley-ridinggun-toting veteran of the Iowa Army National Guard, defeated Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in last year's fiercely contested race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. Touted as a GOP rising star, many observers speculate that she may have her sights set on higher office someday.

That political ascent may be complicated by some of Ernst's hard-right political views, which often seem more typical of a World Net Daily columnist than a United States senator. Ernst once endorsed arresting federal officials for implementing Obamacare, called Obama a "dictator" whose impeachment should be on the table, floated the conspiracy theory that there's a United Nations plot to seize farmers' land, and declared that she keeps a gun in case the government should "decide that my rights are no longer important."

Moreover, Republicans who have given their party's official response to Obama's State of the Union addresses haven't exactly lived up to the high hopes placed in them.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal flopped with an cringe-worthy, hokey response in 2009, and leaves office next year amid dismal approval ratings and facing long odds in his potential 2016 presidential bid.

Bob McDonnell, then Virginia's governor, delivered the party's 2010 response; once discussed as a possible presidential contender, he was just sentenced to two years in prison for public corruption.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's 2011 pick, failed in his vice presidential bid in 2012 and recently passed on a 2016 run for the White House, although the new House Ways and Means Committee chair admittedly has good reasons for staying in his current job.

Then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels succeeded Ryan, giving an unmemorable 2012 address; he has since left politics entirely and is now president of Purdue University.

If there's one thing anyone remembers about Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's 2013 response, it's the senator's spectacularly awkward lunge for a bottle of water. Rubio's political fortunes have only declined since then; the onetime Tea Party favorite drew right-wing ire for his support of comprehensive immigration reform that year, and he no longer ranks in the top tier of the GOP's potential 2016 presidential candidates.

Ernst's direct predecessor, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, caught flak last year after it emerged that "Bette in Spokane," a woman McMorris Rogers claimed faced skyrocketing health costs as a result of Obamacare, had in fact exaggerated her premium hike and turned down cheaper insurance options.

So, Sen. Ernst: Avoid blatant factual inaccuracies, show some charisma, and don't get indicted -- and you'll be well on your way to becoming one of the finer GOP rebutters of the Obama years. And please hydrate beforehand.

By Luke Brinker

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