Marco Rubio’s State of the Union response: Good at distancing himself, bad at water breaks

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pauses during his response to President Obama’s State of the Union address to take a sip of water. (The Washington Post)
February 13, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday. According to The Fix’s Aaron Blake, one of the most noticeable elements of his speech was his attempt to distance himself from Mitt Romney:

Rubio was very much focused on the party’s message during his speech, but he also used the opportunity to intersperse anecdotes about his own uniquely American experience and humble beginnings.

Rubio alluded to his parents’ immigration to the United States from Cuba, the fact that he still lives in “the same working class neighborhood I grew up in,” and the $100,000 in student loans he only recently paid off (he is 41 years old).

“My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy,” Rubio said, adding: “So, Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors.”

This is key. A big reason Romney lost in 2012 was because of his inability to connect with the middle class, and the Obama campaign made great gains by painting Romney and the GOP as the party of the wealthy.

Rubio’s rise to the national stage says a lot about the Republican party, Karen Tumulty and Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote:

“He carries our party’s banner of freedom, opportunity and prosperity in a way few others can,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in announcing Rubio’s selection to deliver the rebuttal. Republican uber-strategist Karl Rove has called Rubio “the best communicator since Ronald Reagan.”

Rubio is indeed a politician of unusual gifts. But the spotlight that has fallen on this relatively new arrival to the national scene says as much about the state of the Republican Party as it does about the 41-year-old senator. And it remains to be seen whether he represents the solution to the GOP’s problems, or whether the party’s sky-high hopes in an untested newcomer are just another measure of its drift.

His appeal starts with the fact that Rubio embodies two demographic groups with which the GOP needs to connect: young people and Hispanics.

And he has been trying to add substance to his sizzle. Rubio, in the first high-profile tryout of his legislative skills, is taking a leading role in shaping an overhaul of immigration law.

He is part of a bipartisan group of eight senators who put together a carefully calibrated set of principles that include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million-plus immigrants in this country illegally. Rubio is the group’s point man tasked with selling that idea to the hard-liners on the right, who see it as heresy.

Much of the discussion about Rubio’s State of the Union rebuttal have nothing to do with policy,and everything to do with his water break. Humor columnist Alexandra Petri wrote:

Hoist by a bottle of water. Sunk, forever, by an ill-timed sip.

I believe I speak for all America when I say that I would never vote for a man who drinks water, from a bottle, in the middle of a speech. Let alone a Poland Spring. What country does he think this is?

Someone who drank water from a glass — even a staid, cylindrical glass — would have to work hard to convince me that he had changed. But to drink — from a bottle? Why couldn’t Rubio be more like Mitt Romney, who occasionally paused to reinsert his lithium ion battery at a more natural angle, but never stooped to water?

This is like the incident that almost sank Winston Churchill — when, midway through telling the Britons that he had nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat, he leaned out of frame to help himself to a full glass of scotch.

Related:

- Video: Rubio delivers the GOP response

- Marco Rubio takes a water break

- Marco Rubio: The anti-Romney

- Marco Rubio emerges as GOP’s star. But is he the answer for Republicans?

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