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(Removes incorrect sentence in fifth paragraph that only Paul called for a balanced budget amendment.)
Sen. Rand Paul’s fiery denunciation of Beltway business as usual showed why the mainstream of the Republican Party has such a hard time dealing with the Tea Party. People like Rand Paul and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, make other Republicans look like go-along, get-along career politicians.
You didn’t even need to have the sound on Tuesday night to notice the difference between the televised address of Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who gave the official Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, and the one broadcast via the Internet by Paul, the Kentucky senator who spoke on behalf of Tea Party Express.
Although Rubio himself was elected with Tea Party support, he looked like a presidential wannabe. He stood before a grand window framed by heavy brocade curtains and an American flag, with a family picture artfully placed in the backdrop. Even his pale blue tie, by chance, resembled the president’s.
Paul, in stark contrast, stood before a plain brown screen adorned only with the logo and URL of Tea Party Express. And while Rubio was immaculately groomed, Paul looked—as usual—like a barber’s nightmare.
Rubio opened his response with a stirring account of his immigrant family’s history, while Paul jumped right into attacking Obama for borrowing, he said, $50,000 a second. Both men criticized Obama for promoting big government and high taxes. But Paul did it with more verve.
Where Rubio was careful to say that the Republicans’ Medicare plan would hold current beneficiaries harmless, Paul made no such promise. He said, “Big government’s not your friend. The president offers you free stuff, but his policies keep you poor.”
Rubio mentioned nothing about drone attacks, which polls show are supported by a majority of Americans. Paul, clearly not trying to win an election, condemned the president for having a secret list of people to be killed without a trial.
Rubio, his eyes glistening, made a quietly reasoned case for small government. Paul threw rhetorical bombs. If Congress doesn’t do right, he said, “Sweep the place clean. Limit their terms and send them home.” And by that he meant Democrats and Republicans alike.
Marco Rubio may have boosted his chances for 2016 by looking presidential. But judging from Tuesday night, as long as Rand Paul is around, Rubio won’t be the clear choice of the Tea Party’s true believers.