Republicans chose Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a fresh new face of the party, to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
But if the messenger was new, the message Rubio offered was back-to-basics, a re-commitment of the party to traditional conservative notions of economic growth.
He argued low taxes, limited regulations and smaller government would free the economy from the shackles of big government he contended Obama offered in his own address.
But the Florida senator offered a new laser focus on how such ideas could boost the middle class and improve the lives of individual people, part of a new Republican effort to more clearly connect their visions with the everyday problems of ordinary Americans.
“Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich,” he said. “I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors. Hard working middle class Americans who don’t need us to come up with a plan to grow the government.”
The new push comes after a campaign year in which Democrats successfully branded the GOP, with its intense focus on cutting government programs, as the champions of the wealthy.
Convinced President Obama would repeat the apologetic liberal tone of his Second Inaugural Address last month at the State of the Union, Rubio offered no sense of a party humbled by its November losses, instead advancing a strong defense of Republican values.
He called for a balanced budget amendment to force Washington to reduce spending and accused Obama of an “obsession” with raising taxes rather than tackling growing deficits through spending cuts or economic growth.
But Rubio was carefully chosen by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to serve as a friendlier, hipper and more inclusive fighter for their cause at a time when the party is looking to soften its image.
At 41, the Cuban-American first termer is savvy on social media, conversant in rap music and pop culture and has worried publicly about the difficulties of balancing work and afatherhood.