Newt Gingrich supporters in Naples, Fla., on Tuesday. Gingrich had harsh… (Lexey Swall, Naples Daily…)
Reporting from Washington — President Obama's call for economic fairness in his State of the Union speech met with caustic responses from his Republican rivals, who accused him of 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 fiscal conservative, criticized Obama's economic policies as a "grand experiment in trickle-down government" and "pro-poverty" strategies that have hampered the economy. The governor, who took a pass on a presidential bid last year, cast the coming election as a crucial 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. Many didn't wait to hear the president's remarks to weigh in.
Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney began the day with a "pre-buttal," in which he accused the president of proposing "more of the same: more taxes, more spending and more regulation."
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."
Gingrich predicted that the president would blame former President George W. Bush for the nation's woes. But Obama pointed the figure 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 A. Boehner told reporters Tuesday, "let's poke the finger where it belongs: at the Democrat control of the United States Senate."
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate GOP leader, said: "The president may want to come here tonight and make it sound as if he just walked in the door. A better approach is to admit that his three-year experiment in big government has made our economy worse."
The party's right-most flank also weighed in. For a second year, a California-based political committee hosted a tea party response to the president's speech. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain delivered the speech, hosted by Tea Party Express.
"On behalf of the tea party and citizen people across this country, with all due respect Mr. President, some of us are not stupid, the state of the union is not good. This nation is broke, not almost broken, and we cannot spend our way to prosperity," Cain said.
Times staff writers Lisa Mascaro, Mark Z. Barabak and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.