Without a doubt, the State of the Union was the main political event on Tuesday. But perhaps the more interesting political positioning occurred after Obama was already on his way home. Following the State of the Union, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul delivered the Republican and Tea Party responses, respectively.
Traditionally seen as an opportunity for up and coming members of the opposition party to flex their political muscle on a national stage, the responses showed that the 2016 election, at least for the GOP, is already kicking off.
Rubio played it safe, sticking to mainstream GOP themes of personal responsibility and anti-government rhetoric. Rubio also made the speech a much more personal attack on the president, accusing him of attacking Republicans and Republican ideas using language like "he accuses," "he criticizes," and claiming that the president "loves to blame" the GOP.
Whining about your opposition isn’t how you win elections but it is how you shore up support among your party. Rubio showed his 2016 aspirations with his strong tilt toward a more moderate middle. Despite being elected as a Tea Party Senator, Rubio steered well clear of Tea Party policy positions like a Balanced Budget Amendment and climate change doubt.
Water bottle moment aside, Rubio was calm, composed, and warmly charismatic in his delivery. With two more years to get his sea legs, Rubio is a clear early favorite for the GOP nomination. Whether he can navigate the tough gauntlet that is the GOP primary remains to be seen but Rubio started making his case for the 2016 nomination last night.
Paul, on the other hand, committed to his Tea Party base in a strong way – calling for implementation of a Balanced Budget Amendment, term limits for Congress, and declaring that there is too much bipartisanship on spending and not enough on cutting. Promising a budget proposal that would balance the budget by 2020, Paul called for a new bipartisan consensus on slashing government. Unabashedly taking shots at the GOP establishment alongside the president, Paul’s response made a strong case for endorsement as the Tea Party’s choice of candidate for 2016.
See the biggest take-aways from Obama's 2013 State of the Union speech here.