What Rubio Must Not Do

Tonight's State of the Union

This is that rare State of the Union Address where there is as much curiosity about the reply from the party out of party as about the president's speech itself.

President Obama has a double strategy tonight: both to mobilize public support for his policy agenda - and also to crowd his Republican opponents to the political margins. He will use immigration to try to isolate Republicans from Hispanic and Asian voters. He will use guns to drive a wedge between Republicans and women.

The politics can work for him. The policy … not so much. It's clearer than ever that President Obama's vision for the U.S. economy is one of state-led and state-directed investment, of markets used only as tools to government's ends.

Here is the opportunity for Marco Rubio tonight: to push back against this state-led vision.

And here is the double danger:

Danger 1 is to be dragged away from the debate over the economy to the debate over the debt and deficit, from economic policy to fiscal policy. Economics is primary, fiscal policy distinctly secondary. Get the economics right, and the fiscal problems will (to a considerable extent) take care of themselves. Get the economics right now, and there'll be plenty of time to address fiscal problems later.

Danger 2 is to give fodder in any way the president's strategy of branding the GOP as culturally reactionary - as, basically, the party of Ted Nugent. Marco Rubio offers the country a more attractive Republican image than it has seen for many a long while. But that image will count for little if it's not joined to a more attractive Republican message.