5 Republicans Who Could Deliver State of the Union Response

The GOP is already narrowing the list.

— -- Republicans still haven’t announced who will deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s last State of the Union address on Jan. 12, but if history is any indication, at least one Republican is already preparing for the huge role.

Generally, party leaders don’t announce the speaker until a few days before the State of the Union, although the selection is made weeks in advance.

So who is it? Here’s a look at five contenders who might be under consideration to deliver the GOP response:

1. House Speaker Paul Ryan

The newly-minted speaker of the House is the clear front-runner for the task, but there are a couple of reasons why it might not be the bearded Wisconsin Republican. First, Ryan is one of two congressional leaders tasked with selecting someone to deliver the GOP response (the other is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell). Moreover, Ryan already delivered the GOP response in 2011 when he chaired the House Budget committee. No Republican has had the honor of delivering two responses since former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole stepped up in 1994 and 1996. And no bearded Republican has ever delivered the State of the Union response, which was first televised in 1966.

2. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

Following the deadly mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, last summer, Haley solidified herself as an emerging leader in conservative ranks, particularly due to her deft response to the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag in the Palmetto State. Haley has already worked her way into the early buzz for the 2016 vice presidential sweepstakes, and a prime time address could help propel her further onto the national scene. Haley would mark the third consecutive woman to deliver the GOP response after Sen. Joni Ernst did in 2015 and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers took a turn in 2014.

3. Rep. Trey Gowdy

When John Boehner announced his decision to resign from the office of the Speaker of the House, Gowdy was repeatedly urged to run. The eloquent chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi is a former prosecutor with widespread popularity throughout the GOP ranks in Congress. Gowdy has not committed to seeking reelection – insisting his focus is on concluding the panel’s investigation, although some insiders believe Gowdy is eyeing an appointment to a federal judicial post if a Republican is elected president next fall.

4. Sen. John Thune

After President Obama won a second presidential term, GOP insiders speculated that the tall and handsome South Dakota senator might mount his own presidential campaign. Instead, Thune quickly took his name out of the running. Still, the two-term senator serves as the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, making him a chief spokesman for GOPers in the upper chamber. Thune has consistently proved to be a popular and positive force in the party ever since he challenged and knocked off Sen. Tom Daschel, who was then serving as the Senate majority leader.

5. Donald Trump

There are several reasons why Trump could be preparing a GOP response over the holidays. He’s leading the polls. He’s drawing capacity crowds at almost all of his campaign rallies. He’s dominating the airwaves on a daily basis. And he’s got the most name recognition of any Republican in the country. But it seems unlikely that Republicans would single out one of their 13 remaining presidential candidates to deliver the speech. Sen. Marco Rubio already had a crack at it when his urge to quench his thirst overshadowed his speech in 2013.

It’ll be up to Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make the decision – and at least half of that duo has been highly critical of the current front-runner. After Trump’s controversial proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States, Ryan said the billionaire businessman-turned-showman's comments were “un-American” – a rare scolding from a GOP leader who has strove to remain neutral in the presidential race. Trump has probably been eliminated from consideration simply because Ryan and McConnell don’t want to be perceived as promoting any of the presidential candidates just weeks before the Iowa caucus.