- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used his State of the State address Tuesday to call for a world where drug offenders get treatment rather than prison, as he and the rest of the Republican presidential field sought to draw clear contrasts with the grim dystopia they said President Obama laid out for the country in his State of the Union speech.

Mr. Christie, speaking from the Statehouse hours before Mr. Obama’s address, contrasted his own record of working with Democrats in Trenton with the president’s performance in Washington, where Mr. Obama has struggled to find common ground with a Republican-led Congress.

“The State of the Union isn’t a call to action; it’s a fantasy wish list by a president who has failed us. It’s the world as he wishes it was, not the real world his failed leadership has left to all Americans,” Mr. Christie said.

The Republican candidates, spread out across the campaign trail, sounded similar dismissive notes about a president they hope to replace — and plan to heavily attack in their campaigns.

In Iowa, Republican front-runner Donald Trump said the “majority” supporting him are “very, very, upset” about the direction of the nation.

“Right now, we are a laughingstock,” Mr. Trump told a crowd in Cedar Rapids. “You’ve got to watch. You have to see what the hell is going on because he doesn’t know.”

He added that he will probably watch the president’s speech, and indeed later panned it via Twitter.

“The #SOTU speech is really boring, slow, lethargic - very hard to watch!” he said.

Even though Mr. Trump was out on the campaign trail, the billionaire’s presence was felt inside the House chamber, where a number of Democrats invited Muslims to be their guests at the speech — a pointed symbolic rebuttal to Mr. Trump’s call for a halt to Muslim immigration.

Politics are never far from the annual State of the Union, but this year’s speech was more infused than usual, with the president bristling at what he sees as unfair and untruthful criticism Republicans have leveled against him during their campaigns.

“Democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens,” Mr. Obama said, demanding that the country “fix our politics.”

The speech marked a role reversal for Mr. Obama, who eight years ago was in the position of the Republican candidates, accusing President George W. Bush of delivering a speech that was “full of the same empty rhetoric the American people have come to expect from this president.”

Mr. Obama said he wanted to set the record straight about his record, arguing all the talk of America’s decline at home and abroad is “political hot air.”

Taking at jab at Mr. Trump, he warned against any politics that targets people over race or religion.

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer, that is not telling it like it is, that is just wrong,” Mr. Obama said. “It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes us harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

Targeting Sen. Ted Cruz’s comments on foreign policy, Mr. Obama said, “Our answers need to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.

“That might work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage,” he said.

Mr. Cruz responded to the speech via Twitter, saying “Tonight’s speech was less a State of the Union and more a state of denial.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said it is clear that Mr. Obama is struggling to define his legacy given his failed record

“The state of the union affirms one thing — we’re ready for a new President,” Mr Paul said.

And former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said that the address showed that Mr. Obama “is a politician, not a leader.”

“Despite his rhetoric, Americans know that our economy is lagging, our leadership in the world is waning, and the very character of our nation is threatened,” she said.

Before the event, Mr. Cruz also held a “State of the Union” town hall in New Hampshire, where he previewed the address he would deliver to a joint session of Congress if he is elected president.

“There has been no change more dramatic than what we’ve seen restoring America’s leadership in the world,” Mr. Cruz said, sparking applause from the crowd.

“The Obama presidency began by sending the bust of Winston Churchill back to the United Kingdom. Well, ever since January 2017, Winston has been back in the Oval Office,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Cruz noted during a pro-Second Amendment campaign stop in New Hampshire that the White House might have misfired with its plans to leave a seat empty to remember victims of gun violence.

“There should be a whole row of empty chairs — for the middle class,” Mr. Cruz said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

He predicted new “heights of demagoguery” from Mr. Obama.

“The president will crow triumphant about what he views as an economy that’s doing great. The lobbyists have done great under Barack Obama. The billionaires have done great,” he said, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who was in the chamber for the speech, blasted out a fundraising email beforehand saying “we are certain to hear more of his plans to push through liberal legislation by more Executive orders.”

Mr. Rubio also told CNN that many Americans are concerned about the economy and the nation’s standing in the world and that many voters tell him they “don’t even recognize” the country after the Obama years.

“Americans are frustrated after seven years of Barack Obama,” Mr. Rubio said. “They feel like they are being left behind.

“That is why I am running,” he said. “We are going to change this.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, conducted an online poll via Twitter asking the online world to weigh in on whether Mr. Obama’s biggest shortcomings are on foreign policy, Obamacare, the national debt or the economy.

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