Controversy

Paul Ryan vs. Michele Bachmann: Battle of the rebuttals

Bachmann annoyed Republicans by offering a rival "Tea Party" response to Obama's State of the Union speech. Did she make the official GOP responder, Ryan, look bad... or better?

After most presidents' State of the Union speeches, a single member of the opposing party traditionally delivers a rebuttal. Last night, however, there were two. Republican leaders were less than pleased with Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) decision to give her own "Tea Party" rebuttal, at the behest of Tea Party Express, immediately after the sanctioned GOP response from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). House Speaker John Boehner called Bachmann's speech "unusual," and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) emphasized that Bachmann is just "going to have opinions," like her 543 colleagues. But did Bachmann undermine Ryan's efforts, as some feared, or did she bolster the GOP message? (Watch Ryan's speech here, and Bachmann's here)

Ryan soared, Bachmann sank: Both Obama and Ryan "aimed high" in their speeches, says Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. Bachmann's rebuttal "had all the altitude of a punch to the gut." On a night of bipartisan comity, the Tea Party star's speech — replete with "with charts and photographs, but not a word of fellowship" — was "angry, and at times wrong." And for the GOP, this is "more than a one-night problem." Bachmann is obviously bidding to replace the GOP's "titular leaders," and she's going to keep at it.
"Michele Bachmann's alternate universe"

Bachmann blew Obama and Ryan away: "I was deeply nervous about the speech," says Erick Erickson in RedState, until Bachmann started speaking... and "gave the best speech of the night." She "kept to nuts and bolts," and "shined" with her "common man touch." Ryan's speech was "okay," but it would have been better if he'd dealt with "his blood-shot eyes and Eddie Munster, Jr. haircut" before going on camera.
"The Bachmann speech"

Both responses were lacking: "Ryan's delivery was on the level of high school debate team," says Matt Ortega in AmericaBlog. But Bachmann's was "closer to a middle school science class presentation." She stared off-camera, mispronounced "Iwo Jima," and recited standard Tea Party "boilerplate." It was "as if CNN accidentally aired an 'SNL' cold open" — which makes it a "wonderful moment" for Democrats.
"CNN accidentally aired SNL's cold open"

Both responses exceeded expectations: Bachmann's speech had some "laughable" moments, but it wasn't "as much of a crazy mess as liberals hoped," says Chris Rovzar in New York. In fact, she "did fine," and her speech helpfully dovetailed with Ryan's "coherent and even-keeled" rebuttal. Neither speech bested the president's remarks, but maybe "together, they will leave a mark on Obama's unusual and frank State of the Union."
"Tea Party and Republican responses: Cutting, but composed"

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