What Bob McDonnell Might Say Tonight

Newly elected Republican Governor Bob McDonnell gets the honor to give the response to President Obama's State of the Union Address tonight. Because the Republican Party lacks effective national leaders and spokespersons, McDonnell, of Virginia, has the chance of a lifetime. Should McDonnell succeed where so many before him have fallen flat (most recently, Bobby Jindal), he will emerge as a national standard bearer for the GOP. His profile will rise. The buzz about him will grow.

So what's the best way for him to take advantage of the political environment? And what is he likely to say?  Here are some educated guesses. 

1. The Take Home Point: Advocate local control and limited government.

In McDonnell's inaugural address, he said this:

"The Founders recognized that the government closest to the people governs best. More often than not, Richmond knows better about the hopes and dreams of the people than Washington. And Galax and Fairfax and Virginia Beach know far better than Richmond."

McDonnell campaigned on this sentiment, and it captures what conservatives who believe in limited government feel in their bones. It also captures the frustrations of Independent voters who are concerned about government's overreach. He needs to say this in his response. In fact, he MUST say it -- if he wants the theme to resonate. State of the Union responses are infamous for being nondescript and muddled. Speakers are afraid to pound points home.

Advocating local control and limited government is the quintessential response to a State of the Union address that is likely to justify -- even subtly -- an activist government protecting the people against big problems. McDonnell's job is to make sure that voters associate his response with the notion that people at the local levels know better than Washington about how to govern their lives.

2. Tell the nation about his daughter's military service.

Liberal pontificators will try to diminish McDonnell by bringing up the infamous graduate thesis that he wrote while attending Regent Law School, in which he hypothesized whether women who entered the workforce could have a detrimental impact on the nuclear family. To preemptively counter this attack, he might mention that his daughter served in Iraq. When Jim Webb responded to George Bush's State of the Union speech in 2007, he mentioned his family's history of military service--including that of his son--and talked credibly about national security to buffer Democrats against charges that they were weak on national security in one of the best and more effective State of the Union responses to date. In a similar vein, if McDonnell mentions his daughter's military service, it will make it difficult for liberals to paint him as the Neanderthal that MSNBC viewers will no doubt be asked to believe he is.

3. Discuss education reform.

Presented by

Tony Lee contributes to The Atlantic Online. Follow him on Twitter: @TheTonyLee.

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