How Republicans have attacked Obama’s inaugural address, and what it means

January 25, 2013

In the days following President Obama's second inaugural address, Republicans have been sounding off about what they didn't like.

House Speaker John Boehner said Obama is trying to 'annihilate' the GOP (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
House Speaker John Boehner said Obama is trying to 'annihilate' the GOP (Jacquelyn Martin -- AP)

While there's consensus in GOP circles that Obama's speech -- which was filled with liberal priorities like gay rights, immigration reform and and climate change -- was wrongheaded, the Republican pushback has been varied and nuanced.

The precise ways some Republicans bashed the president offered a few hints about how they are likely to position themselves in his second term. Here's a closer look at a few prominent Republicans, in alphabetical order:

* House Speaker John Boehner: 

What he said: “[G]iven what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me and should be clear to all of you that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans. So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me tell you, I do believe that is their goal. To just shove us in the dustbin of history.”

What he meant: Reminder: We're the last line of defense here. Democrats control the Senate and White House. Let's rally around the most effective ways of pushing back against the president's agenda.

Boehner's not viewed as a potential 2016 presidential contender, so his concern is on his tenure as speaker. As such, he is the leader of the effort to block Obama's policies in Washington. So his response was sort of a call to action. Obama's said what he wants to do in the next four years; it's up to us to make sure it doesn't happen, he seemed to be saying.

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:

What he said: "Instead of trying to bring people together it was a manifesto for, ‘Hey, it’s my way or the highway.’”

What he meant: What happened to working together to find common ground, like I have tried to do? Obama's rhetoric was far too divisive.

Christie -- who faces reelection this year, and is viewed as a top potential 2016 presidential contender -- boosted his own bipartisan credentials when he invited the president to tour damage from superstorm Sandy a week before the 2012 election. He's continued to underscore the importance of bipartisanship.

For now at least, polling shows he's a strong bet for a second term as governor. But given his state's Democratic tilt, Christie will have to keep up a willingness to work with the other side.

* Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: 

What he said: "Well, instead of Hugo Chavez, you might hear references to Madison and Jefferson. I know he didn’t actually literally refer to Chavez, but he referred to a lot of liberal policies,” Paul told conservative radio host Steve Deace, when asked how his inaugural address might differ from what Obama said earlier this week.

What he meant: I'm a constitutional conservative. When I disagree with this president, I am going to remind voters of my own principles.

As FixAaron wrote on Wednesday, Paul is positioning himself as the conservative option in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Thus, to some it's not surprising that some of the harshest criticism of Obama's speech is coming from him. One more thing worth noting: Paul was in South Carolina on the day of the inaugural ceremony, a crucial state in the presidential nominating contest.

* Florida Sen. Marco Rubio:

What he said: Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Rubio didn't even attend Obama's inaugural address. His spokesman told the Palm Beach Post that day that Rubio was "in Miami. Kids didn't have school today."

What he meant: As we've written, important moves rarely happen by accident in politics. That's not to say Rubio didn't want to be with his kids; just that he must also have considered how his absence might look. And skipping Obama's inaugural address might be seen as a badge of honor among conservatives. Rubio's been a vocal Obama opponent on many fronts, and while he won't be running against the Democrat in four years, he's staking out ground on the opposite side of many of Obama's proposals from his place in the Senate. Rubio hasn't weighed in specifically on Obama's speech yet, but it's clear he disagrees with the overall direction Obama wants to take the country.

* Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan:

What he said: “No one is suggesting that what we call our earned entitlements – entitlements you pay for, like payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security – are putting you in a ‘taker’ category. ... So, it’s kind of a convenient twist of terms to try and shadowbox a straw man in order to win an argument by default."

What he meant: Don't buy into Obama's argument about entitlements; he's misrepresenting the GOP approach. And while we are on the subject, remember that I have been the GOP leader on this issue.

Ryan's reputation rests mainly on his fiscal record and call to revamp Medicare. He's clearly going to continue to embrace the role of the leading GOP voice on the entitlement reform as 2016 approaches.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake · January 25, 2013