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Inside the GOP applause strategy
How did Republicans decide when they would—or would not—stand for the president during the State of Union?
 

At the State of the Union address last night, Obama faced silent opposition from Republicans who staged a "sit-down strike" throughout most of the speech. At certain points, however, they sprang to their feet, applauding in unison, raising the question: Just how orchestrated was the GOP's disapproval process? (Watch video clips of the Republican “sit-down strike” here.) THE WEEK breaks it down:

Was the protest planned?
Yes—if not outright, then by precedent. Both sides of the party line have a long-standing tradition of staying seated when a president on the opposing side gives a State of the Union address. This year, some pundits were predicting a particularly well-planned routine as early as last week: Republican senators “will switch to cheerleader mode” and work together to conduct the strike, wrote Bob Patterson in Daily Kos.

Was the GOP response unusually chilly?
It was certainly more restrained. House GOP leaders reportedly cautioned fellow Republicans not to harangue the president: In an effort to avoid a repeat of Joe Wilson’s infamous “You Lie!” outburst, they were encouraged to be “respectful” and “considerate” during the course of the speech. "The GOP did away with the pranks and gimmicks they displayed the last time Obama addressed a joint session," says Michael Scherer in TIME. "Eschewing paper signs or rude interruptions, they seemed content to pass the time with a sort of cool confidence that accompanies a sense of ascendancy."

Did it go as planned?
At first, it would seem yes. Last night’s crowd of conservatives began the evening stoically: They remained seated despite Obama’s efforts to rouse them with GOP-friendly policies. As Obama continued to speak, however, the GOP became more “conciliatory,” says Mark Murray at MSNBC’s First Read; some Republicans even stood to applaud when the president spoke about improving health-care coverage, tackling the debt crisis, and renewing the public’s faith in the government. As a body, they “became more engaged and loudly applauded when Obama talked about offshore drilling and trade."

How did Obama react?
Obama appeared impervious to the GOP's initial refusal to stand. According to Gail Collins at the New York Times, this isn't surprising: “Obama does not really do angry .... Looking out at the motley crew seated before him,” Obama seemed like “he had never seen these people before in his life.” Rather than behaving as a well-seasoned politican, he instead chose to act like “a visitor from the heartland with a petition he wanted to deliver.”

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SEE MORE OF THE WEEK'S STATE OF THE UNION COVERAGE:
SOTU: Obama vs. Alito
State of the Union: Grading Obama
Corporate money: Bad for politics?
Supreme Court ruling: Pro-GOP?

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

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