February 25, 2015

The Virtues of Marco Rubio

Though the cat’s out of the bag, Rubio’s not expected to formally announce until April.

Marco Rubio began his race for the Republican presidential nomination with a bang by snagging Jim Merrill, Mitt Romney’s top campaign aide in both of his presidential bids. Though the cat’s out of the bag, Rubio’s not expected to formally announce until April.

In joining the first-term senator from Florida, Merrill declared, “What Mitt [Romney] said is right. It’s time for the next generation of Republican leadership.” Merrill called Rubio the “most exciting candidate in the field.” He continued, “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think he could win. He knows … [how to] engage voters, do town halls, run personal door-to-door campaigns. I’ve never seen a more talented guy.”

Rubio, the son of naturalized Cuban immigrants, would be the first Latino Republican candidate. That in itself should warm the cockles of establishment-type GOP hearts. And make no mistake – Republicans must improve with minorities.

Bright, articulate and energetic, Rubio served eight years in the Florida House of Representatives, eventually being elected speaker in 2006. In 2009, he ran against Charlie Crist in the Florida senatorial primary. Beginning as an underdog, Rubio climbed the polls quickly and won the primary. Crist then ran as an independent, but Rubio beat him again in a three-way race.

In his first term as a U.S. senator, Rubio has authored, introduced or co-sponsored more bills than many of his senior colleagues, and he’s established himself as a substantial cultural and fiscal conservative.

Rubio’s major obstacle in his quest for the nomination may be fellow Floridian Jeb Bush, the man rallying GOP elites. With the establishment behind the former Sunshine State governor and with his own family’s connections, Bush has many wealthy donors already committed to him.

By comparison, Rubio has so far won the backing of George Seay, a Texas financier who supported Gov. Rick Perry in 2012, and Norman Braman, a car dealer billionaire and philanthropist. He was well received at a gathering of donors the Koch brothers put together and will likely win yet more support. But he’s still David to Bush’s Goliath.

His pitch is that he’s the right messenger (an eloquent, young, Cuban-American who can appeal to a diverse array of voters) with the right message (an optimistic plan for American exceptionalism, born of his personal story) for the 21st century.

Rubio espouses conservative cultural and fiscal conservative values – he’s pro-life, pro-religious freedom and pro-Second Amendment. He opposes same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana use. He wants to limit the growth of federal spending via a balanced budget amendment and to restore George W. Bush’s tax cuts. He favors helping small business through tax cuts, including capital gains, and promoting research and development in science and technology, including bringing the moribund space program back to life.

In his senatorial race, Rubio was the Tea Party candidate, and he probably can still expect substantial Tea Party support, even with several candidates competing for that backing.

Some pundits compare Rubio to Barack Obama’s running against a party favorite. Virtually no one knew Obama, so running against Hillary Clinton was risible. She was so far ahead in the polls that his candidacy seemed quixotic. But despite Hillary’s seeming popularity, many Democrats didn’t want a Clinton dynasty. Obama knew it, and he was able to out-charisma Hillary for the nomination.

In most respects, there’s no similarity between Rubio and Obama, but the comparison stands up on one point. Like Obama, Rubio is young and has a popular message, so with a few dozen stump speeches the polls could begin to swing. And average Republicans are leery of a Bush dynasty. Then again, this analogy discounts the several other candidates who have their own sizable followings – something Obama did not face.

Rubio presents himself and his family as being winners because of American exceptionalism – a word conservatives ache to hear again from their president. Unlike the current Oval Office occupant, Rubio exudes patriotism. His parents came from Cuba, escaping poverty and seeking opportunity, and they found it in America. We need a leader who can show us that this great nation will revive economically, will destroy ISIL and will begin to reverse its cultural decline. Maybe Rubio can do it.

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