WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama called for economic fairness in this State of the Union speech, his Republican rivals blasted the president for spurring divisions.
"No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in the official GOP response to the speech. "We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of 'haves' and 'have nots'; we must always be a nation of 'haves' and 'soon to haves.' "
Daniels, a popular economic conservative, blasted Obama's economic policies as a "grand experiment in trickle-down government" and "pro-poverty," policies that have hampered the economy rather than helped.
The governor, who took a pass on a presidential bid last year, cast the coming election as a critical moment.
"So 2012 is a year of true opportunity, maybe our last, to restore an America of hope and upward mobility, and greater equality," Daniels said.
The governor was joined by many Republican leaders in casting the president as a class warrior seeking to pit rich against poor in his quest for re-election, and many Republicans didn't wait to hear the president's remarks to weigh in.
Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney began the day with a "pre-buttal," in which like Daniels he accused the president of using the speech to "divide the nation."
"The president's agenda sounds less like 'built to last' and more like 'doomed to fail.' What he's proposing is more of the same: more taxes, more spending and more regulation," the former Massachusetts governor said.
Romney's top rival for the GOP nomination took a harsher tone. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich painted the president as a radical, out of touch with America.
"You always have to wonder when Obama speaks, which country he thinks he's talking to. You also have to wonder what his source material is," Gingrich said at a campaign event earlier in the day. "You can really understand him best when you understand that he is a Saul Alinsky radical who taught radicalism in Chicago. I'm an old-fashioned American and I think the primary documents are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers."
Gingrich predicted that the president would blame former President George W. Bush for the nation's woes. But the president pointed the finger more directly at Congress.
In a letter to supporters, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum scoffed at the president's talk of American values. "Over the last three years, he has made it clear that his values are not our values and he does not understand what it takes to make America great again," Santorum said.
In the face of the president's strategy, GOP lawmakers worked hard to dump the blame elsewhere: the Senate, where Democratic leadership has not considered much of the House GOP economic policy agenda.
"If the president wants to poke his finger at the Congress," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Tuesday, "let's poke the finger where it belongs: at the Democrat control of the United States Senate."2 comments on this story
At a morning news conference, the Ohio Republican dubbed the speech a "rerun" of past policies proposals and synthesized his party's opposition into a campaign slogan repeated across the Capitol on Tuesday: He's made it worse.
"The president's policies have made our economy worse," said Boehner. "And you know, the president's policies, again, are just going to double down on what hasn't worked."
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate GOP leader, suggested Obama's proposals for the future should be weighed against his record of the past two years.