Republican who'll deliver the rebuttal to Biden's State of the Union is...

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

No, it’s not Glenn Youngkin.

The two parties typically use the SOTU rebuttal to show off their diversity. Youngkin has the right policies for this midterm but not the right demographic profile. In fact, just once over the past 10 years has a white guy delivered the rebuttal for Republicans. That was in 2012, when Mitch Daniels gave it. After that, Marco Rubio, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Joni Ernst, and Nikki Haley were the honorees. Last year, it was Tim Scott who was tapped to answer Biden’s quasi-SOTU.

Ironically, Democrats have featured white men in the rebuttal slightly more often lately, with Steve Beshear in 2017 and then Joe Kennedy in 2018. But that makes sense: If the rebuttal is an opportunity to reach out to groups who’d otherwise ignore you on a night when the country is paying attention to politics, go figure that Dems might cycle in white guys occasionally.

This year’s GOP honoree: Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa. She’s up for reelection this fall, she’s taken a DeSantis-ish approach to COVID policy, and she’s a woman. A party eager to de-Trumpify its image among swing voters needs a way to show educated women that they’re welcome in the party. Reynolds is their potential solution to that problem and is sure to focus on school policy in her address to win over “COVID moms.”

In a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) praised first and foremost Reynolds’s permissive coronavirus policies in Iowa as an example of GOP leadership…

Iowa was one of the few states not to issue stay-at-home orders at the beginning of the pandemic. Reynolds didn’t implement statewide mask mandates in Iowa until November 2020, then lifted them — along with many other coronavirus restrictions — last February, without explanation and earlier than many other states. Nearly 9,000 Iowans have died of the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, and the state saw outbreaks rip through its meat-processing plants at the peak of cases in 2020.

Like many other GOP officials, Reynolds also has railed against critical race theory, an academic framework for examining systemic racism that Republicans have seized on to mean any education about racism or diversity training. Last June, Reynolds signed a law targeting the teaching of critical race theory in Iowa’s schools and government training programs, calling it “discriminatory indoctrination.”

At a moment when the GOP’s media profile is dominated so thoroughly by populist bombthrowers, it’s strange to see a low-key governor who doesn’t get much face time on Fox plucked to deliver one of the most-watched speeches of the year.

But that’s the point, right? Reynolds is the sane low-key Republican they want to show off when company’s coming over, like breaking out the good silverware. Whereas on a normal day they eat with plastic forks and spoons, i.e. Marjorie Taylor Greene ranting on Steve Bannon’s podcast.

As for why Ron DeSantis, the party’s biggest star not named “Trump,” didn’t get the nod instead, I assume he ran into the same demographic problem that Youngkin did. Either that or forces are conspiring behind the scenes to deny him opportunities to raise his national profile.

There’s one other virtue that Reynolds brings to the table, a rural identity. Not that Republican voters care much about that in principle, having pledged undying loyalty to a louche lifelong New Yorker, but the party’s fortunes depend heavily on running up the score — way, waaaaay up — outside America’s cities and suburbs. Check out this new data from Morning Consult:

Rebuilding a presence among rural voters will take a generation for Democrats. Even Republicans with no trace of rural identity in their persona, like Youngkin, have begun piling up crushing margins in rural areas thanks to local voters’ disgust with Democratic priorities. Inasmuch as the GOP can show off governors of rural states like Reynolds, it’s an easy way to remind Americans who represents the countryside. And that’s especially important this year, notes Dan McLaughlin, since Republicans are aiming to knock off Democratic governors this fall across the midwest (Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan). Who better than a midwestern governor to do the job?