What Rubio did lay out was a perfect imitation of the Mitt Romney campaign platform -- and a perfect example of what's really wrong with the GOP. It was all tax cuts and small government and abortion and drill baby, drill. Americans didn't like this record the last time it was played, it's not likely they're going to like it any better now. Set the biographical introduction aside and the rest was just complaining.
It's convincing evidence that Republicans think their problems are all cosmetic. Prior to the election, Republicans defended attacks on minorities as proof that they weren't willing to "pander" to them -- as if not ignoring someone's concerns is some sort of a kiss-up and not responsive government. Choosing Rubio to deliver the Republican response shows that Republicans are now ready to pander, but that this whole "responsive government" thing is just going a step too far for them. Pandering is all you're going to get. It represents an apparent belief that Mitt Romney lost because he wasn't a somber-faced Latino in a serious dark suit, not because Americans rejected his proposals. Republicans continue to make the mistake of thinking that Americans rejected the packaging, not the same tired, old, unappetizing slop inside it. Marco Rubio is just the latest "new and improved!" sticker slapped on the party, without any attempt whatsoever to change the party in any substantial way at all. The sticker is the only change -- and it is, of course, a lie.
"Republicans face a choice," wrote Greg Sargent this morning. "Either they can accept the realities of public opinion and become a functional opposition party, by working with Obama and Democrats to get some of what they want while allowing Obama to claim some victories of his own, as unbearable a prospect as that might seem. This is what Newt Gingrich eventually did in the 1990s. Or they can continue to reflexively obstruct everything, with an eye towards — well, it’s not clear what this would accomplish, except kicking the can down the road in hopes of taking back the Senate in 2014, making it even easier to tie up Obama’s agenda in advance of another grab at the White House in 2016."
And the latter won't be as easy as they may want to believe. President Obama delivered a remarkably combative State of the Union last night. For example, on he subject of climate change, he told Republicans directly, "[I]f Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will."
I think you can sum up the GOP's problem pretty simply: they continually set themselves up as the villain. The GOP's strategy to win elections is to oppose and block everything, then blame Democrats and Obama for not getting anything done. The problem here is that they have to do all this obstruction right out there in the open and people are starting to notice. And that means that when they block very popular things, the public doesn't take it as a favor.
Meanwhile, their relentless obsession with entitlements villainizes them further. They might as well all wear top hats and caps, twirling their mustaches as they demand that grandma's Medicare and Social Security be cut, that families lose food stamps, that the jobless lose their unemployment benefits. On gun violence they side with the gun fetishists and they've even managed to side with rapists on an alarmingly regular basis. They side with Wall Street every chance they can get, protecting the ability of the wealthy to jam their hands in your pockets pretty much at will. When their idea of ideal income equality is raising taxes on the poor, in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, they really can't expect people to start seeing them as a heroes. You're putting on that black top hat and cape willingly guys, no one's forcing it on you.
If Republicans believe their problem is that Mitt Romney doesn't look enough like Marco Rubio, the coming months will give them plenty of opportunities to realize their mistake. If they don't come around and realize that a lack of Rubios isn't their problem, they very well may be ineducable.