The tea party movement has seeminglywith the Republican Party since the party's electoral losses last November, as the GOP seeks to broaden its appeal with voters, but that apparent schism was hardly noticeable in the two conservative responses to President Obama's State of the Union address.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaking for the tea party, delivered essentially the same message that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did in his: They charged that Mr. Obama is interested in growing government and increasing taxes, to the detriment of the struggling economy.
"President Obama believes that government is the solution," Paul said in his response, sponsored by the Tea Party Express. "What America needs is not Robin Hood but Adam Smith."
Rubio similarly said Mr. Obama's "solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more... [but] more government isn't going to create more opportunities. It's going to limit them."
Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said in a statement, "It should be no surprise that the GOP response mirrored so closely to the Tea Party response. Like Senator Paul, Senator Marco Rubio has proven to be a bold Tea Partier that's leading the Republican Party back to its conservative principles. Tonight should be remembered as the night in which America's conservative majority united to reject the dangerous big-government agenda of President Barack Obama with two very compelling speeches."
Paul critiqued both Democrats and Republicans, noting that "both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses."
It was clear from Paul's remarks, however, that tea party conservatives can line up with establishment conservatives when it comes to opposing the president's plans for government investments: "The president offers you free stuff, but his policies keep you poor," Paul said.
Yet as the GOP attempts to rebuild its brand and expand its policy agenda, opposition to the president may not be enough to keep the party unified. Some of Paul's remarks hinted at some of the issues on which the party may struggle to come together.
A number of Republicans, for instance, have opposed the looming "sequester" cuts, which will slash around $500 trillion from the defense budget over 10 years. Paul, however, argued that "few people understand that the sequester doesn't even cut spending, it just slows the rate of growth... It is time Republicans realize that military spending is not immune to waste and fraud."