After President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address tonight, the Republican Party will hand over its (usually thankless) response duties to alleged GOP savior and widely projected 2016 contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida). Then the Tea Party will hand the mic over to libertarian Republican and widely projected 2016 contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). The headlines write themselves:
And so on.
How do these onetime anti-establishment Class of 2010 Tea Party senators compare? Looking at their respective high-profile speeches at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Rubio is more likely to stress his family's humble immigrant story, remind less recent Americans how powerful the American dream still is, and say stuff like "almighty God is the source of all we have." Paul will probably make more references to the Constitution, and include Republicans in at least some of the blame for persistent debt/deficit/spending since the Tea Party wave of 2010.
The big difference between the two, and what makes any Rubio/Paul contest interesting (both in terms of the GOP and also the Tea Party), is foreign policy. Rand Paul may be triangulating from his father and dressing up his imperial scale-back in the questionably fitting clothes of Ronald Reagan and George Kennan, but he rarely passes up an opportunity to tell Republicans that they need to cut military spending and re-think open-ended interventionism. Rubio, on the other hand, is more likely to slam Obama for not being interventionist enough.
Given that the Tea Party for the most part has studiously avoided foreign policy disputes, this contest for its sympathies is genuinely up for grabs. That said, I wouldn't expect too much on the subject from either young senator, given the State of the Union's likely preoccupation with jobs, spending cuts, and guns.