Is Giving the State of the Union Response Good for Your Career?

For some politicians, providing the official State of the Union response has been career gold. For others, not so much.

Democrats this year chose recent Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who lost a remarkably close election in the red state, to address the nation immediately following President Donald Trump on Tuesday. The speech gives Abrams a big platform and a chance to introduce herself to a national audience. But there are tales of caution.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and then-Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal were two young up-and-comers in the Republican Party, both seen as potential future presidential candidates. But before they fizzled out in the 2016 GOP primary, each fizzled during their State of the Union responses. Rubio famously grasped for a glass of water mid-speech, a move parodied by Saturday Night Live, his primary opponent Donald Trump and even himself on the campaign trail. Jindal’s speech was criticized as “cheesy” and as talking down to the American public.

How much of a career launching pad is the State of the Union response?

Career path after a State of the Union response, 1982-present
Ran for president after response
Remained in Congress or as governor
Ambassador
Cabinet
Legislative leadership
Vice presidential nominee
Presidential nominee
Vice President
President

But not every awkward response deals a blow to an otherwise upward career trajectory. Bill Clinton’s pre-recorded response to the State of the Union in 1985 featured an odd format. Clinton won the presidential election just seven years later. Future vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden both played parts in responses during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when group rebuttals were common. Still, the response is not always a career launchpad. Most respondents don’t make it to the White House or congressional leadership. Here is where previous State of the Union respondents went after their moment in the national spotlight.

President
Vice president
Presidential nominee
Vice presidential nominee
Legislative leadership
Cabinet
Ambassador
In Congress
Governor

Rings sized by how long politicians worked

in each position after their SOTU response:

2019

Left office

2

4

6

8 years

2018

Mass rep.

2017

Former Ky. governor

S.C. governor

2016

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

2015

Iowa senator

2014

Wash. rep.

2013

Fla. senator

2016 GOP presidential candidate

Ind. governor

2012

2011

Wis. rep.

2012 GOP vice presidential nominee

Speaker of the House

2010

Va. governor

2009

La. governor

2016 GOP

presidential candidate

2008

Kan. governor

Health and Human Services Secretary

2007

Va. Senator

2016 Democratic presidential candidate

2006

Va. governor

Va. senator

2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee

House Democratic leader

Senate Democratic leader

2005

Speaker of the House

2004

House Democratic leader

Speaker of the House

Senate Democratic leader

2003

Wash. governor

Secretary of Commerce

Ambassador to China

2002

House Democratic leader

2004 Democratic presidential candidate

2001

House Democratic leader

Senate Democratic leader

2004 Democratic presidential candidate

2000

Maine senator

Tenn. senator

Senate GOP leader

1999

Wash. rep.

Okla rep.

1998

Senate GOP leader

Miss. senator

1997

Okla. rep.

1996

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP presidential nominee

1995

N.J. governor

EPA Administrator

1994

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP presidential nominee

1993

House GOP leader

1992

Speaker of the House

Ambassador to Japan

1991

Senate Democratic leader

1990

Speaker of the House

Ambassador to Japan

1989

Texas senator

Speaker

of the

House

Secretary of the Treasury

1988

Senate Democratic leader

Speaker

of the

House

W.Va. senator

1987

Senate Democratic leader

Speaker

of the

House

W.Va. senator

1986

Pa. rep.

S.D. rep.

S.D. senator

Senate Democratic

leader

Va. governor

Va. senator

Mo. lieutenant

governor

Maine senator

Senate Democratic leader

1985

Ark. governor

President from 1993 to 2001

Fla. governor

Fla. senator

2004 Democratic presidential candidate

Speaker

of the

House

Senate Democratic leader

W.Va. senator

1988 and 2008 Democratic

presidential candidate

1984

Vice president

from 2009 to 2017

Ky. senator

Del. senator

Mont. senator

Ambassador

to China

Okla. senator

Speaker of

the House

W.Va. senator

Senate

Democratic

leader

Mich. senator

Pa. Rep.

Fla. rep.

Calif. rep.

Calif.senator

1984 Democratic presidential nominee

Ambassador

to Japan

R.I. senator

Iowa rep.

1992 Democratic presidential candidate

Iowa senator

1983

Speaker of

the House

Vice

President

from 2009

to 2017

Mass. senator

1992 Democratic presidential candidate

Del. senator

1988 and 2008

Democratic presidential candidate

2000 Democratic presidential candidate

N.J. senator

Colo. rep.

Colo. senator

Senate Democratic

leader

S.D. rep.

S.D. senate

W.Va.

senator

Senate

Democratic

leader

Calif. rep.

Ore. rep.

N.C. rep.

Ill. rep.

1988 Democratic presidential candidate

Ill. senator

Conn. rep.

1982

Tenn. rep.

Senate Democratic

leader

Tenn. senator

Vice president

from 1993 to 2001

W.Va. senator

2000 Democratic

presidential

nominee

Colo. senator

1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate

Mich. senator

Speaker of

the House

Mass. senator

Calif. senator

1984 Democratic presidential candidate

Md. senator

La. senator

Tenn. senator

Ambassador to

China

Calif. governor

1992 Democratic

presidential

candidate

Calif. governor

Rings sized by how long politicians worked

in each position after their SOTU response:

Left office

6

2

4

8 years

2019

2018

Mass rep.

2017

Former Ky. governor

2016

S.C. governor

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

2015

Iowa senator

2014

Wash. rep.

2013

Fla. senator

2016 GOP presidential candidate

2012

Ind. governor

2011

Wis. rep.

2012 GOP vice presidential nominee

Speaker of the House

2010

Va. governor

2009

La. governor

2016 GOP

presidential candidate

2008

Kan. governor

Health and Human Services Secretary

2007

Va. Senator

2016 Democratic presidential candidate

2006

Va. governor

Va. senator

2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee

Senate Democratic leader

2005

House

Democratic leader

Speaker of

the House

2004

House

Democratic leader

Speaker of

the House

Senate Democratic leader

2003

Wash. governor

Secretary of Commerce

Ambassador to China

2002

House Democratic leader

2004 Democratic presidential candidate

2001

Senate Democratic leader

House Democratic leader

2004 Democratic presidential candidate

2000

Maine

senator

Tenn. senator

Senate GOP

leader

1999

Wash. rep.

Okla rep.

1998

Senate GOP leader

Miss. senator

1997

Okla. rep.

1996

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP presidential nominee

1995

N.J. governor

EPA Administrator

1994

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP presidential nominee

1993

House GOP leader

1992

Speaker of the House

Ambassador to Japan

1991

Senate Democratic leader

1990

Speaker of the House

Ambassador to Japan

1989

Texas senator

Speaker

of the

House

Secretary of the Treasury

1988

Speaker

of the

House

Senate

Democratic leader

W.Va. senator

1987

Speaker

of the

House

Senate

Democratic leader

W.Va. senator

1986

Pa. rep.

S.D. rep.

S.D.

senator

Senate Democratic

leader

Va.

gov.

Va.

senator

Mo. lieutenant

governor

Maine senator

Senate Democratic leader

1985

2004

Democratic presidential candidate

Ark. gov.

President

from 1993

to 2001

Fla.

gov.

Fla.

senator

Senate Democratic leader

W.Va. senator

Speaker

of the

House

1988 and 2008

Democratic presidential candidate

Pa. Rep.

1984

Vice

president

from 2009

to 2017

Del. senator

Okla. senator

Speaker

of the

House

Ky. senator

Senate

Dem.

leader

W.Va.

senator

Mich.

senator

Fla. rep.

Calif. rep.

Calif. senator

Mont. senator

Ambassador

to China

R.I. senator

1984 Democratic presidential nominee

Ambassador

to Japan

Iowa rep.

Iowa senator

1992 Democratic presidential candidate

1983

Del. senator

1988 and 2008

Democratic presidential candidate

Ore. rep.

Vice

President

from 2009

to 2017

2000 Dem.

presidential candidate

Ill. rep.

N.J.

senator

1988 Dem.

presidential candidate

Ill. senator

N.C. rep.

Calif. rep.

Speaker of

the House

Senate Democratic

leader

W.Va. senator

Colo. senator

Colo. rep.

Mass. senator

1992 Dem. presidential candidate

S.D. rep.

S.D. senate

Senate Dem.

leader

Conn. rep.

1982

Tenn. rep.

Colo. senator

Tenn. senator

1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate

Vice president

from 1993

to 2001

2000 Democratic

presidential

nominee

Mich. senator

Senate Democratic

leader

W.Va.

senator

Calif. senator

Mass. senator

1984 Dem.

presidential candidate

La. senator

Md. senator

Speaker of

the House

Tenn. senator

Ambassador to China

Calif. governor

1992 Democratic

presidential

candidate

Calif. governor

Rings sized by how long politicians worked in each position after their SOTU response:

Left office

6

2

4

8 years

2019

2018

Mass rep.

2017

Former Ky. governor

2016

S.C. governor

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

2015

Iowa senator

2014

Wash. rep.

2013

Fla. senator

2016 GOP

presidential candidate

2012

Ind. governor

2011

Wis. rep.

2012 GOP vice presidential nominee

Speaker of the House

2010

Va. governor

2009

La. governor

2016 GOP

presidential candidate

2008

Kan. governor

Health and Human Services Secretary

2007

Va. Senator

2016 Democratic presidential candidate

2006

Va. governor

Va. senator

2016 Dem.vice presidential nominee

House Dem.leader

Speaker of the House

Senate Dem.leader

2005

House Dem.leader

Speaker of the House

2004

Senate Dem.leader

2003

Wash. governor

Secretary of Commerce

Ambassador to China

2002

House Dem. leader

2004 Dem. presidential candidate

House Dem. leader

2001

2004 Dem.presidential candidate

Senate Dem. leader

Maine senator

2000

Tenn. senator

Senate GOP

leader

1999

Wash. rep.

Okla rep.

1998

Senate GOP leader

Miss. senator

1997

Okla. rep.

1996

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP presidential nominee

1995

N.J. governor

EPA Administrator

1994

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP presidential nominee

1993

House GOP leader

1992

Speaker of the House

Ambassador to Japan

1991

Senate Dem.leader

1990

Speaker of the House

Ambassador to Japan

Texas senator

1989

Secretary of the Treasury

Speaker

of the

House

1988

Senate Dem. leader

W.Va. senator

Speaker

of the

House

1987

Speaker

of the

House

Senate Dem. leader

W.Va. senator

1986

Mo. lieutenant

governor

S.D. rep.

S.D. senator

Pa. rep.

Senate Dem.

leader

Va. governor

Va. senator

Maine senator

Senate Dem.leader

Ark. governor

Fla. governor

1985

President from 1993 to 2001

Fla. senator

2004 Democratic presidential candidate

Speaker

of the

House

Senate Dem.leader

W.Va. senator

1988 and 2008 Dem. presidential candidate

Vice

president

from 2009

to 2017

Del.

senator

1984

Mont. senator

Ambassador

to China

Fla. rep.

Senate Dem.leader

W.Va. senator

Speaker

of the

House

Ky. senator

Iowa rep.

Iowa senator

1992 Dem. presidential candidate

1984 Dem. presidential nominee

R.I. senator

Ambassador to Japan

Calif. rep.

Calif. senator

Pa. Rep.

Mich. senator

Okla. senator

1983

Vice

president

from 2009

to 2017

Del. senator

1988 and 2008

Dem.presidential candidate

Speaker of

the House

S.D. rep.

S.D. senate

Senate Dem.

leader

Colo. rep.

Colo. senator

N.C. rep.

Mass. senator

1992 Dem. presidential candidate

Calif. rep.

Ore. rep.

Senate Democratic

leader

W.Va. senator

Ill. rep.

1988 Dem. presidential candidate

Conn. rep.

Ill. senator

2000 Dem. presidential candidate

N.J. senator

1982

Senate Dem.

leader

W.Va. senator

Tenn. rep.

Tenn. senator

Vice president

from 1993

to 2001

Colo. senator

1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate

2000 Dem.

presidential

nominee

Mass. senator

Calif. senator

1984 Dem. presidential candidate

Md. senator

Tenn. senator

Ambassador to China

Speaker of

the House

Mich. senator

La. senator

Calif. governor

1992 Dem.

presidential

candidate

Calif. governor

Rings sized by how

long politicians

worked in each

position after

their SOTU

response

Left office

2

4

6 years

2019

2018

Mass rep.

2017

Former Ky. governor

2016

S.C. governor

U.S.

Ambassador to the United Nations

2015

Iowa senator

2014

Wash. rep.

2013

Fla. senator

2016 GOP

pres. candidate

2012

Ind. governor

2011

Wis. rep.

2012 GOP vice pres. nominee

Speaker of the House

2010

Va.

governor

2009

La.

governor

2016 GOP

pres. candidate

2008

Kan. governor

Health and Human Services Secretary

2007

Va. senator

2016 Dem.

pres.

candidate

2006

Va.

governor

Va.

senator

2016 Dem.

vice pres. nominee

House Dem.leader

2005

Speaker of the House

Senate Dem.leader

2004

Senate Dem.leader

House Dem.leader

Speaker of the House

Wash. governor

Secretary of Commerce

2003

Ambassador to China

House Dem.leader

2002

2004 Dem.

presidential candidate

House Dem.leader

2001

2004 Dem.

presidential candidate

Senate Dem.leader

2000

Tenn. senator

Senate GOP

leader

Maine senator

1999

Okla rep.

Wash. rep.

1998

Senate GOP leader

Miss.

senator

1997

Okla. rep.

1996

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP pres.

nominee

1995

EPA

administrator

N.J. governor

1994

Senate GOP leader

1996 GOP pres.

nominee

1993

House GOP leader

1992

Speaker of the House

Ambassador to Japan

1991

Senate Dem.leader

Speaker of the House

1990

Ambassador to Japan

1989

Speaker

of the

House

Texas senator

Secretary of the Treasury

1988

Speaker

of the

House

Senate Dem.leader

W.Va. senator

1987

Speaker

of the

House

Senate Dem.

leader

W.Va. senator

Mo. lieutenant

governor

1986

S.D. rep.

S.D. senator

Senate Dem.

leader

Pa. rep.

Maine senator

Senate Dem.leader

Va. governor

Va. senator

Ark. governor

1985

President from 1993 to 2001

Fla. governor

Fla. senator

2004 Democratic presidential candidate

Speaker

of the

House

Senate Dem.leader

W.Va. senator

1988 and 2008

Dem.pres. candidate

Vice

president

from 2009

to 2017

1984

Del.

senator

Mont. senator

Ambassador

to China

Fla. rep.

Senate Dem.leader

W.Va. senator

Speaker

of the

House

Ky. senator

Iowa rep.

Iowa senator

1992 Dem.pres. candidate

R.I. senator

1984 Dem.

presidential nominee

Ambassador

to Japan

Calif. rep.

Calif. senator

Pa. Rep.

Mich. senator

Okla. senator

1983

Speaker of

the House

Del. senator

1988 and 2008

Dem.pres. candidate

Vice

President

from 2009

to 2017

S.D. rep.

S.D. senate

Colo. rep.

Colo. senator

Senate Dem.

leader

Calif. rep.

Ore. rep.

Mass. senator

1992 Dem.

pres.

candidate

Senate Democratic

leader

W.Va. senator

Conn. rep.

1988 Dem. presidential candidate

Ill. senator

Ill. rep.

N.C. rep.

2000 Dem. pres.

candidate

N.J. senator

Senate Dem.

leader

1982

W.Va. senator

Tenn. senator

Vice president

from 1993

to 2001

Colo.

senator

2000 Dem.

pres.

nominee

1984 and

1988

Democratic pres.

candidate

Tenn. rep.

Calif. senator

1984

Democratic

pres.

candidate

Mass. senator

Md. senator

Speaker of

the House

Tenn. senator

Ambassador to China

La. senator

Mich. senator

Calif. governor

1992 Dem.

pres.

candidate

Calif. governor