On the couch with Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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If you think it’s easy giving the official response to the State of the Union, just look at the trail of political corpses and failed attempts left in its wake.

It’s an almost thankless task. After all, how can one person — usually sitting alone in a room — compete with the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union? And yet, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers seemed to rise to the occasion, delivering a solid speech which critiqued the president’s proposals, while softening the GOP’s rough edges in the process.

It was a personal speech, heavy on emotion, and buttressed by her own biography. She began by talking about America being “a nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald’s Drive-Thru to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol.” One of the most poignant moments came when she talked about her son:

“I was single when I was elected – but it wasn’t long before I met Brian, a retired Navy commander, and now we have three beautiful children, one who was born just eight weeks ago.


“Like all parents, we have high hopes and dreams for our children, but we also know what it’s like to face challenges.


“Three days after we gave birth to our son, Cole, we got news no parent expects.


“Cole was diagnosed with Down syndrome.


“The doctors told us he could have endless complications, heart defects, even early Alzheimer’s.


“They told us all the problems.


“But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities.


“We saw a gift from God.


“Today we see a 6-year old boy who dances to Bruce Springsteen; who reads above grade level; and who is the best big brother in the world.


“We see all the things he can do, not those he can’t.

Here’s something else I liked about McMorris Rodgers’ speech, and that is McMorris Rodgers has paid her dues. In other words, she’s the real deal and is comfortable in her own skin.

I think that shows. And maybe, just maybe, this solid foundation will yield lasting success. While a lot of other Republican rising stars have shown flashes of brilliance, only to stumble when the heat was on, McMorris Rodgers has been quietly honing her craft for years (she’s been in Congress since 2005) — doing the hard work expected of a serious Member. (Note: I’m not referring here to Louisiana Gov. Bobb Jindal or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both of whom have impressive backgrounds and experience, and both of whom faced challenges when delivering a State of the Union response.)

Rather than seeking immediate (or premature) attention and fame (as is the temptation), McMorris Rodgers rolled up her sleeves and actually became a legislator — and a leader — and sometimes, that pays off.

In recent years, Republicans have been so desperate to highlight anyone who isn’t an old white man, that they have sometimes glommed onto rising stars before they were ready for the big time. (Ironically, Republicans have been perhaps too eager to engage in tokenism, identity politics, and a sort of informal affirmative action — as if they could erase all their problems simply by highlighting the right spokesperson. But quick fixes don’t work. What works is, well, doing the work.)

Like a football team so desperate for victory they start a rookie too soon, a premature appearance on a big stage can be like being thrown in the deep end of a pool. You sink or swim. And usually, you sink. This not only destroys your confidence, it can wound and embitter the soul, and tarnish an otherwise attractive image.

Instead of seeking short-term celebrity, Rep. McMorris Rodgers bided her time, rolled up her sleeves, and became someone who was worthy of the attention — both in terms of her personal and professional life.

Already tonight, there is even some wildly premature “veep” chatter. For example, Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute tweeted that her response to the State of the Union was a “very veep-credible performance.”

Republicans (and Rep. McMorris Rodgers) would be wise not to get too excited, just yet (lest they fall into the same trap I’ve been lamenting). But it feels like her stock just went up in Washington.

Matt K. Lewis