The Tea Party response to the State of the Union will be the third address of Tuesday night.
There will be two conservative rebuttals. The first, given by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), will be the official GOP response. The second, given by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), will be the Tea Party response and could offer the greatest contrasts but also be the most problematic for Republicans.
The Tea Party rebuttal is being painted as complementary to the official GOP one but it, and Rand Paul, could do some significant damage. It could set back GOP efforts to modernize and broaden their base. It could remind everyone that the Republican party still includes a strong faction that wants to pull it so far to the right that they would have us return to an almost federal government-less nation.
The Republican Party leadership no doubt selected Marco Rubio because he represents what they want voters to see in their party. A young Hispanic man that can appeal to a broader base of voters and give an address in English and Spanish, as he is set to do Tuesday night. That is an image and brand that could get adversely affected by the image of Rand Paul railing on behalf of the Tea Party.
Paul's rebuttal will be live streamed online and given from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He is known for fiery rhetoric, espousing limited government, and being a darling of the Tea Party, which itself is a substantial but still fringe-like movement within the Republican Party. What Paul can't do, or shouldn't do, is so aggressively take on Obama that he destroys the Republican Party's efforts to woe voters that aren't so sure that Obama is a "socialist."
While it's true that Paul might accurately voice the frustrations of hundreds of thousands of Americans, a State of the Union rebuttal is not the time to vent. It's a time to build, to show voters what you're for and not just against, and it remains to be seen whether Rand can really do that, i.e., the kinds of things the Republican Party needs to regain dominance.
It's going to be a fun one.