Can the man Time magazine dubbed the “Republican savior” and a leading prospect for the 2016 presidential race possibly deliver on such high expectations? It will be tough. Rubio himself responded to the Time cover with a tweet: "There is only one savior, and it is not me. #Jesus."
His quip projects a little humility – as well as faith (Roman Catholic), a Republican touchstone. But the pressure on him to score Tuesday night is still sky-high.
“He may not consider himself the savior, but he’s got to be the savior for at least one night,” says Ford O’Connell, chairman of the conservative CivicForumPAC.
Exactly what that means, even just being a “one-night savior,” is open to interpretation. In a way, Rubio has already scored a small victory by taking some attention away from Mr. Obama’s address. SOTU response speeches are typically an afterthought that gets little to no notice.
Usually, the best-case scenario is that such speechmakers don’t mess up. The worst case is they look foolish. In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana was tapped to reply to Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress, right after his inauguration. Governor Jindal seemed perfect – a young, articulate minority (Indian-American) leader going up against the first black president. Instead, he was panned by even conservative pundits for both his words – “stale” rhetoric, said one – and his delivery, likened to Kenneth the page on the TV show “30 Rock.”