Rubio fills the role of the GOP’s perfect pitchman. The charismatic Florida Republican has the support of the conservative base but is adept at talking tea party principles in a style that appeals across the aisle.
For Rubio, the task offers risks as well as rewards — a fact that is probably not lost on the politically savvy senator. Delivering the GOP rebuttal further elevates his profile and affords him an opportunity to establish a relationship with voters of all political stripes. But following the president on his annual stage, absent the energy and cheering of the House chamber, has humbled rising politicians of both parties. A poorly reviewed rebuttal has hobbled the presidential prospects of some.
In the House, much of the Republicans’ voter-focused legislative agenda could sprout from the seeds planted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in a speech he delivered last week. The theme of the address was “making life work,” and it foreshadowed the intent of House Republican leaders to move their conference away from constant confrontation with Obama and toward a direct conversation with voters on how GOP policies can improve their lives.
Cantor said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that bills on the topics he discussed in the speech, including education, economic growth, health care and immigration, would be rolled out in the coming weeks and months. And, in fact, sources said Monday that the Virginia congressman vetted the speech with Boehner, GOP committee chairmen and other leaders before delivery to secure support for moving legislation through the House.
Republicans are still bracing for brutal fights over federal spending, enacting a fiscal 2014 budget and raising the debt ceiling, and many are relishing the debate.
But just as Obama has moved to broaden his agenda beyond fiscal issues and turned to executive orders to implement change opposed by the GOP, House Republican leaders hope to take control of the political debate by eschewing fights with the president and pursuing a more diverse policy course than that which guided the first two years of their new majority and focusing attention on what they would do if they ran Washington.
“We have to find the will to drive an agenda again,” a House Republican aide said. “It must be common sense to gain traction. and it must not ignore the everyday problems that Americans are facing or we will look out of touch.”