Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said Republicans "heard the message you sent in November loud and clear," in her State of the Union rebuttal, but her speech competed for American ears with an array of unofficial GOP responses that began well before President Obama spoke.
“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare," Ernst said. "It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions."
She challenged Obama to sign legislation to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline, a move the White House has said the president would veto, and urged Democrats to join the GOP in negotiating tax reform and passing trade deals.
“Congress is back to work on your behalf, ready to make Washington focus on your concerns again," she said.
Ernst was one of the brightest stars of the 2014 elections, where she rode a compelling biography as a small town farmer and Army National Guard officer to victory over Democratic candidate Bruce Braley. Her campaign was defined by a memorable ad in which she touted her experience castrating hogs and pledged to “make ‘em squeal” in Washington.
“As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees," Ernst said. “We were raised to live simply, not to waste."
Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo was also chosen by the party to deliver a Spanish-language address that touched on similar themes. As Democratic opposition researcher American Bridge noted, however, his address included a call for "permanent solutions for our immigration system" while Ernst did not address the topic.
While Ernst's and Curbelo's addresses were the only official Republican responses, their colleagues didn’t seem concerned about diluting the message with a flood of pre-buttals and rebuttals.
Senator Rand Paul, who is preparing for a possible run for president, delivered his own address on YouTube. Where Obama's speech played up recent economic gains, Paul recounted a litany of woes, warning of "growing discontent" and "another 2008-style panic" if the U.S. continues to rack up debt.
“I wish I had better news for you, but all is not well in America," Paul said. "America is adrift. Something is clearly wrong. America needs many things, but what America desperately needs is new leadership."
Like many Republicans recently, Paul focused his remarks on poverty. But he also went out of his way to highlight inequality between black and white Americans, pointing to discontent in Ferguson and quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic Congressman John Lewis along the way.
"I think peace will come when those of us who have enjoyed the American Dream become aware of those who are missing out on the American Dream," Paul said. "The future of our country will be secure when we break down the wall that separates us from the other America."
Senator Ted Cruz, another possible 2016 candidate, lined up a video message as well, though not everything went as planned. His office accidentally released a clip of him beginning his speech, pausing, then starting over. They then pulled the video and replaced it with a clean version, in which Cruz said it was "striking the president did not mention his illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty."
On the House side, Speaker John Boehner also released a video ahead of the speech in which he declared that "making government bigger isn't going to help the middle class.”
Congressman Curt Clawson, who was elected last year in Florida, was chosen to deliver the “tea party response” for conservative advocacy group Tea Party Express. Clawson was one of 25 Republicans who voted against Boehner as House speaker, and the separate address highlighted ongoing divisions within the GOP over how to challenge the White House’s agenda with their new majorities.
"We cant spend our way to prosperity with more and more entitlements and more government handouts," Clawson said. He directly addressed Latino viewers in Spanish at one point and said that "legal immigration has long been, and remains a key, to American greatness."
Mitt Romney, who is looking at another presidential run after losing to Obama in 2012, followed the speech up with a Facebook post calling the president "more interested in politics than in leadership."
Jeb Bush also responded on Facebook, where he wrote that "it's unfortunate President Obama wants to use the tax code to divide us instead of proposing reforms to create economic opportunity for every American."
Other prominent Republicans took to Twitter before, after, and during the speech to lob bombs at Obama – and even his guests. Iowa Congressman Steve King, the party’s top immigration hardliner, criticized First Lady Michelle Obama for bringing 21-year old DREAMer Ana Zamora to the speech – or, as he put it, “a deportable.” Last week, the House recently voted to undo protections for DREAMers along with upwards of 5 million immigrants temporarily shielded from deportation by Obama’s executive actions.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who delivered a widely panned official response to Obama’s 2009 address, previewed this year's edition by accusing the president on Twitter of offering "free stuff."
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who recently announced he was considering a presidential run, also issued a statement ahead of the speech. "There are two things certain about the Obama administration: debt and taxes," Huckabee said. "I'm not surprised that in this State of the Union address, President Obama will introduce another plan for more taxes."
The avalanche of Republican commentary partly reflected this year's shift from the usual rhythms of the State of the Union. In a break from tradition, Obama traveled the country previewing the major policy components of his speech, headlined by plans to offer free community college tuition and a proposal to raise taxes on Wall Street, investors, and wealthy heirs in order to fund tax credits for child care and working families. The White House also released the text of Obama's speech to the public for the first time on Medium shortly before the speech began. Republicans responded by quickly releasing Ernst's prepared remarks as well.