If you hadn't heard of Steve Beshear before Tuesday night, you probably weren't alone. The former governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general of Kentucky gave the Democratic Party's response to President Trump's joint session address, but he was rather irrelevant until Tuesday's big speech. Beshear's Democratic response to Trump made him an unconvincing pick for the Democratic Party.
When it comes to Kentucky politics, Beshear has practically done it all. He grew up with a mayor for a father, and in his own adult career, he made his way from member of the Kentucky state legislature to two-term governor. Now, his son Andy serves as Kentucky's attorney general. In the Bluegrass State, Beshear is the Democratic Party's golden boy.
As governor, Beshear successfully implemented the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and expanded Medicaid. He reportedly used such policies to insure some 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians. What's more, he's a Democratic leader from a state where Trump dominated in the November election.
In fact, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer just about summed it up when asked by CNN's Jake Tapper to explain the decision to let Beshear rebut Trump's speech.
"ACA is working, and nobody shows that better than Gov. Beshear. He makes one of the best cases why we should keep the ACA," Sen. Schumer told tapper, also noting that Beshear "comes from a working-class, mid-Western background."
When it was all said and done, Beshear's response did the job. He sat in a relatable diner in Lexington, Kentucky, surrounded by what seemed to be a group of working class Kentuckians. He chastised Trump's rhetoric and he defended the Affordable Care Act. Still, no matter how relatable the Democratic Party tried to make Beshear seem, he wasn't the most relevant face to put at the front of the party.
After all, Beshear has been away from the political sphere for more than a year. His second term as governor ended in 2015, and he was unable to run for re-election due to term limits in Kentucky. Beshear himself acknowledged his lack of a public office by calling himself a "private citizen" during his rebuttal. On the one hand, a non-Washington, D.C., face could be refreshing for Americans who are tired of career politicians, but a larger-than-life figure like Trump on the Republican side calls for an equally strong response on the Democratic side.
Then, there was Beshear's audience. The crowd around him in the diner was unmistakably white. While that may be reflective of Kentucky, the Democratic Party needs to talk to — and, more importantly, resonate with — more than just Kentucky. Trump may have won Kentucky back in November, but he won the White House with more than the Bluegrass State. The Democratic Party traditionally does well with minorities, but abandoning those minorities to appeal to a different audience may not go over so well.
Beshear's rebuttal was no doubt a reserved, even-tempered attempt to oppose Trump's prime-time address. Beshear has valuable experience from his days in public office that he could rely on in preparing and delivering his remarks. But whether or not he resonated with Americans on both sides of the aisle — as the Democratic Party needed him to — remains to be seen.