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Is GOP Governor Nikki Haley's State of the Union Rebuttal Cursed?

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is getting a shot at the big stage, but State of the Union responses tend to be boring, disastrous, or strangely detrimental to political careers.

Nikki Haley at CPAC. Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address Tuesday night at 9 PM EST. While no one has heard a word of it, we already know that Republicans will hate every bit of the speech, and are already preparing a rebuttal, a ritual that's usually reserved for a promising, if perhaps under-the-radar, member of the opposition party.

Over the past seven years, the GOP have used this opportunity to promote would-be rising stars including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. This year, party officials have given the nod to 43-year-old South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who gained national attention last year during the aftermath the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, after which she called to remove the Confederate flag from her state capitol's grounds.


Presenting the GOP's official response is theoretically an honor, and if Haley puts on a stellar performance she'll be improving her chances at getting that vice presidential slot on the 2016 ticket. But if history is any guide, Haley should be less worried about killing it Tuesday night and more worried about dodging the " rebuttal curse" that's fucked with the careers of previous politicians.

One problem is that while SOTU rebuttals give big stages to politicians who haven't had much national exposure, some don't seem all that prepared for that platform. Michelle Bachmann, the Republican congresswoman who delivered the unofficial Tea Party response in 2011, was shit on by Saturday Night Live for staring off-camera during her entire rambling rebuttal. Democrat Kathleen Sebelius was criticized for her expressionless rebuttal in 2008, and Rubio's 2013 speech is mainly remembered for the bizarre water break taken by young Marco in the middle.

Beyond the performances, for whatever reason a lot of SOTU responders see their careers crash and burn in various ways not long after their speeches—an inexplicable phenomenon that could be compared to the Sports Illustrated cover curse. Bachmann retired from Congress in 2014 amid an ethics investigation into her campaign finances. Ryan was one half of the doomed GOP presidential ticket in 2012. Jindal looked like a promising young go-getter in 2009, when he delivered the SOTU response, but he didn't attract much support in this year's GOP presidential race, and has fallen away from the mainstream. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who gave the SOTU rebuttal in 2010, was busted on corruption charges and will face prison time unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

Haley's best bet for her speech is to just be succinct, simple, deliver a single good burn on Obama, then avoid getting indicted for a crime.

Hers won't be the only response from the right to Obama's address. There's a planned Spanish-language rebuttal from Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, as well as a Tea Party Express–endorsed reply from conservative activist Wayne Allyn Root. Then there will be the even less official responses: Donald Trump will be jawing on Twitter, Texas Senator Ted Cruz might replicate his video reply from last year, and who knows? Maybe someone will pull a Joe Wilson and shout "You lie!" as the Congressman did back in a 2009 Obama address to a joint section of Congress. That sort of thing would push Haley's response from the headlines, and considering the ghosts of SOTU responses past, that might be for the best.