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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., right, takes a reporter's question as a bipartisan group of leading senators announce that they have reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation's immigration laws, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Rubio set to present the GOP's reaction

  • Article by: CHRIS CILLIZZA
  • Washington Post
  • February 9, 2013 - 7:34 PM

WASHINGTON - The selection of Marco Rubio to deliver the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union cements the Florida senator's role as a first-among-equals when it comes to the future leaders of the party and sets up an intriguing dynamic over the next few years between Rubio and the man he almost certainly wants to replace.

That congressional Republicans chose Rubio to carry the party's flag is, frankly, not at all surprising. It's no secret that Rubio is the single most marketable product in the Republican Party today; he's young (41), Hispanic and conservative without being frightening to voters outside of the party base. He is also, without question, the most gifted communicator in the party -- a natural ability that evokes Barack Obama.

"He is the most natural communicator in our party since Reagan, and I've not said that of anyone before," Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Convention, said of Rubio. "When he speaks, it's like someone tapped a tuning fork. He just hums."

Rubio is the obvious choice -- particularly with his recent leadership on a compromise immigration reform measure, a piece of legislation that is of massive import to the GOP's future prospects.

The more intriguing narrative that unspools from the choice of Rubio is how Tuesday night's speech likely kicks off a period in which the GOP puts the Florida senator forward as its de facto foil to President Obama.

The simple truth is that the national Republican Party lacks a leader at the moment, someone who can effectively articulate a counter-message to the one Obama is delivering to the country.

For much of 2011 and 2012 that role was occupied by House Speaker John Boehner thanks to the GOP's majority in that chamber. But Boehner's prime concern was, is and always will be the care and feeding of what has become an increasingly conservative Republican majority in the House. Boehner's messaging, therefore, was always calibrated to the 200-plus House Republicans, not the American public at large.

Boehner also isn't a communicator on the level of Obama. He is blunt and occasionally short-tempered, traits that are of value when leading a group like House Republicans but are less useful when trying to rebrand the GOP for moderate and independent voters across the country.

In addition, Boehner's failure late last year to round up votes for his so-called "Plan B" during the fiscal cliff debate proved that he lacks the sort of control over his caucus required to lead it, let alone the Republican Party.

The leadership vacuum caused by Boehner's struggles has contributed in no small part to the seemingly catch-as-catch-can approach the party has taken to its political tactics and strategy over the last few months.

Enter Rubio. In addition to his natural political skills, Rubio has also proven decidedly deft at navigating between the Tea Party and the GOP establishment during his brief time in the Senate. That decidedly rare skill -- Boehner, Mitt Romney, John McCain and many others lack it -- coupled with the sense that Rubio is the person best positioned to put a Republican back in the White House in 2016 -- could well provide the momentum he needs to be the GOP's answer to President Obama.

© 2014 Star Tribune