The Art of State of the Union Seat-Trolling

Expect Obamacare to tumble and a massive shake-up in the 2016 race by way of the strategic seating choices made by members of Congress at the State of the Union speech.

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Among the weirdest parlor games D.C. plays is the who's-sitting-with-whom game at the State of the Union speech. This year, expect Obamacare to collapse and a massive shake-up in the 2016 race by way of the strategic seating choices made by members of Congress.

Politicians believe that there's some alchemist's magick in how and who sits where during the State of the Union speech. In 2011, the theory was that mixing Republicans and Democrats together during the speech would cure our country's divisiveness. That did not work. In 2012, No Labels bought an ad in a newspaper hoping for the same thing. That did not work either. We are still divided. Who Congress sits near appears — appears! — to have little effect on interparty politics.

But what about winning policy debates? Every member of Congress gets to bring a guest, so the Republican House leadership figures that the key to finally winning the Obamacare debate is to remind people that in some cases Obamacare hasn't been a smashing success. Politico outlines the plan: "At least a dozen GOP lawmakers are bringing Obamacare plus-ones to the State of the Union in a coordinated effort, according to information provided by the House Republican Conference and individual offices." Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson says that this is "putting a face to the problem." (The problem already had a face, for what it's worth.) This has been the Republicans' plan for a while, looking for anecdotal examples of the law's failures and flubs in an attempt to … what? Get people mad about Obamacare? Madder? It seems unlikely that Obama will give the Republicans' guests a shout-out during his speech, so the extent to which they'll be visible to the public isn't clear.

The real innovators here, though, are the Republicans who are already looking ahead to the State of the Union in 2017. Benghazi — which is, at this point, essentially just an anti-Hillary talking point — will apparently be a theme from Republicans farther away from party leadership. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts took to to demand Clinton Obama apologize for / re-explain the Benghazi attack during the speech. Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine will have as his guest tonight the father one of those killed in the attack. The art of prebutting the State of the Union usually only looks a day or so ahead; doing it two years in advance is a coup.

Targeting future presidential candidates is not solely a Republican phenomenon, of course. New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell invited Mayor Bill Sokolich of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Sokolich, you may remember, was the likely target of the traffic back-ups in Fort Lee initiated by an aide to Chris Christie. This is trolling-once-removed, an opportunity to get a little (little) media play for something outside the scope of what Congress has anything to do with. If there were a 2020 front-runner with a known political weakness, it's safe to assume that someone's guest would be targeted to that end. Why not have someone that Chelsea Clinton bullied in grade school? Someone that the good-looking Bush kid in Texas knocked down on the playground?

How effective is this? Name one single guest from last year's State of the Union address, presidential or congressional. Spoiler: You probably can't. And if you can, it's probably Ted Nugent, guest of Rep. Steve Stockman. Because that guy knows how to troll.

Update, 11:30 a.m.: We may have a new champion troll for the night: Louisiana Rep. Vance McAllister has invited Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson to be his guest. But who, we ask, will invite Pajama Boy?

Update, 1:00 p.m.: The trolls keep coming. California Rep. Darrell Issa is bringing economist Art Laffer, who will make an effective prop.

Update, 7:00 p.m.:  Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert invited Sean Hannity, which is troll squared.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.