President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night prompted an array of reactions from conservative critics, whose divergent responses mirrored the fractures on display this year in a bruising Republican presidential primary.
The responses began early in the day, when Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney delivered an address billed as a “prebuttal” from a shuttered factory in Florida. It was followed by an official response from the GOP by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who disappointed many Republican establishment figures last year when he announced that he would not join the presidential race.
Finally, Herman Cain — the former pizza company chief executive who dropped out of the presidential race last year amid sexual harassment allegations — gave a populist-tinged tea party response in a late-night Web broadcast.
Daniels’s was the only response to air on the major networks at the conclusion of Obama’s remarks. The honor is typically given to a rising star in the opposing party who may benefit from the national exposure.
In his rebuttal, which was stern but without the bombastic tone adopted by some of his fellow Republicans of late, Daniels congratulated Obama for a handful of successes but accused him of painting an overly optimistic portrait of the nation’s economic health.
“On these evenings, presidents naturally seek to find the sunny side of our national condition,” Daniels said. “But when President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true.”
But he sharply criticized the president’s “constant disparagement of people in business” and accused him of giving in to “extremists” on developing local-based sources of energy. He faulted what he called inaction to address entitlement programs that without changes are likely to “implode.” He accused the Obama administration of pitting the rich against the poor.
“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others,” he said. “As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat.”
In an acknowledgment of the divisions among Republicans, Daniels urged party members to “work, in ways we Republicans have not always practiced, to bring Americans together.”
Earlier in the day, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has struggled to prove to voters that he has the grit to take on Obama, offered a preview of the kind of criticism he would heap on the president if he wins the GOP nomination. He accused Obama of squandering his time in the White House and blaming Congress for his own shortcomings.
“Tonight, President Obama will make the opening argument in his campaign against a do-nothing Congress,” Romney said. “But we shouldn’t forget that for two years, this president had a Congress that could do everything he wanted.”
Closing out the day, Cain offered a critique that carried similar themes but was delivered in the kind of folksy language laced with populist rhetoric that briefly earned him a place at the top of the presidential contest in the fall. He accused Obama of “racial innuendos” and “class warfare,” and likened Obama’s leadership to that of King George III, who ruled England at the time of the American Revolution.
“We know that this nation is broke,” Cain said. “Not almost broke, it is broke and Washington is broken.”
Cain dropped out of the Republican presidential race in November amid media reports that several women had accused him of sexual harassment while he was serving as a lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association. He denied the allegations.
He has remained in the public eye, making guest appearances on Fox News programs and speaking at a rally promoted by comedian Stephen Colbert in South Carolina this month.
In his remarks Tuesday, Cain struck a theme voiced by Obama and his Republican critics alike — the need for greater cohesion. “We deserve as a nation,” Cain said, “to put the word ‘united’ back into the United States of America.”