Rand Paul's State of the Union reply, alongside Margo Rubio's official Republican response, indicates a widening rift within the GOP.
Unlike traditional Republicans, Paul is a deficit hawk par-excellence. He does not want to contain government, he wants to seriously reduce its size. And he is consistent - he wants military spending slashed as well.
Although Paul is a Republican, he represents the libertarian wing of the "tea party," for whom he gave his reply to President Barack Obama. Other stalwarts such as South Carolina's Lindsay Graham have taken issue at "green eyeshade" Republicans, who would slash the allegedly untouchable defense budget. No doubt they see the Kentucky senator as being on the "fringe."
Yet Paul has a point and he has shrewdly pointed out that the Pentagon is bloated and represents government spending. For Graham and other Southern Republicans this presents a problem.
South Carolina, as well as other southern states, has received more than its fair share of the bases and facilities. And the spending has done much to boost their local economies. Mendel Rivers of the Palmetto state was once accused of placing so many military installations around Charleston that it would sink under the weight. But even for some conservatives, defense spending can be just as superfluous as domestic outlays.
Especially for some states that have a smaller military presence, the current pouring of federal money into defense is considered a Cold War anachronism.
In this discussion, Paul is being consistent across the board, while Graham looks parochial. This is not the 1980s and the United States is undisputedly the world's largest superpower.
These problems also underscore the political divide. With some justification, tea partiers do not take responsibility for Mitt Romney's loss - after all, he hardly represented that branch and rather unconvincingly mouthed their ideas. That he abased himself to no purpose pleasing the Tea Party does not mean he was their preferred candidate. Romney's effort was so transparently calibrated to go all over the road politically that it lacked focus. Before Denver he was Ayn Rand; after the debate he was kinder and gentler conservatism.
Paul harkens back not so much to Ronald Reagan but to Robert Taft, "Mr. Republican" of 1952. Budget cutting, suspicion of "Globaloney" and advocating for local control was a hallmark of Taft. Likewise, Paul does not see himself as duty bound to extend programs that he long has denounced. Although for many Sen. Paul might be an irritant, he is principled.
In an era in which Republicans are unsure of their future direction, Paul's challenge is daunting.
For the Kentuckian, the Republican Party is not true enough to its principles. To become more center-right is regarded as ineffective. While Rubio speaks to the tactically obsessed moderate conservative, Paul advocates "a choice, not an echo."
Not since the Free Soil Party challenged the Whigs has a group such as the tea party emerged.
Unlike George Wallace's or Ross Perot's efforts, the tea party of Dick Armey has helped to refit the genuine article.
For the GO,P it represents a challenge that just might damage it permanently and bring forth a new party of bold colors and not pastels, as Reagan once suggested.