U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida addressed a full house last Saturday while helping Governor Terry Branstad raise about a half-million dollars for his re-election campaign. Since Rubio is a likely presidential candidate
Ideologically, Branstad’s not very different from former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the establishment figure Rubio defeated from the right in the 2010 U.S. Senate GOP primary. But Rubio had nothing but kind words for Iowa’s governor last weekend. He even had a joke tailored for the local crowd:
“Look, let’s just address right upfront the elephant in the room, because anytime anyone makes a trip to Iowa people start speculating about what you’re going to do in the future and all that, so let me just be blunt. I am not now, nor will I ever be, a candidate for offensive coordinator for Iowa,” Rubio said and the room erupted in laughter and applause, just a few hours after the Iowa Hawkeyes lost a fifth straight game, ensuring a losing season.
Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson posted the full audio from Rubio’s speech at the fundraiser. Some of his points didn’t make sense to me but may sound persuasive to Republican primary voters. For instance, in Rubio’s world, “big government” doesn’t help people who are struggling—it hurts them. In contrast, Rubio asserted, wealthy people may not like big government, but they “can afford” to deal with it.
In reality, government programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and food assistance are much more important to people barely making it than they are to wealthy people.
Rubio managed an impressive balancing act during an interview for GQ Magazine’s December 2012 issue. His love for rap music may appeal to some people who fall outside traditional Republican demographic groups. But he clearly doesn’t want to alienate the older white evangelicals who are a big part of the GOP base:
GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?
Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
GQ: You talk a lot to young Republicans. Recently I met a Republican who said, my kids are in high school and there’s a prom. There’s straight kids, gay kids. It’s no big deal to them. And he says, my party, the Republican party, has to stop putting these social issues out there and talking more about stuff that effects people.
Marco Rubio: I think that’s unfair. A significant percentage of Americans feel very strongly about this issue. What I’m hearing is that it’s ok for one side to express their view and the other side needs to be quiet. There are a very significant number of Americans that feel very strongly about the issue of life, about the issue of marriage and are we saying that they should be silenced or not allowed to speak or voice their opinion? There’s a way to do that that is respectful and productive. There are things we’ll always disagree on, but it doesn’t mean we go to war over them or divide our country over them. We agree to disagree, but we continue to work together on the things we all know that we have to do.
Typically, governors run for president run “against Washington,” but Rubio is staking out some of that territory for himself. This comment from the Branstad event stood out for me:
You know who made that [the fiscal cliff]? Congress made that.
Like Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, Rubio voted against the “Budget Control Act” of 2011. That deal avoided a financial crisis by raising the U.S. debt ceiling but also set up the so-called “sequester” (mandatory spending cuts) that Congress will work around during the next few months.
Unlike Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Rubio hasn’t piled on Mitt Romney since the election. After Romney told major donors on a conference call that President Barack Obama won re-election by giving “gifts” to key constituencies, Rubio commented,
“I don’t want to rebut him point by point. I would just say to you, I don’t believe that we have millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work. I’m not saying that’s what he said. I think we have millions of people in this country that are out of work and are dependent on the government because they can’t find a job.” Rubio, speaking to a reporter from POLITICO, said he didn’t know the full context of Romney’s remarks.
“I have tremendous admiration for him as a person,” Rubio said. “I think he was a good candidate, he ran a hard race, there were a lot of factors at play and I thought he’d be a great president. I hope he’ll stay involved with our party and stay involved with conservatism.”
By the time the next Iowa caucus campaign heats up in 2015, Romney will be old news. Rubio’s main selling point in a GOP presidential contest is obvious: as one of the country’s most prominent Latino Republicans, he could blunt the Democrats’ advantage with this growing demographic. He is part of a younger generation, which has trended Democratic lately. Finally, Rubio comes from a large state with 27 electoral votes. No Republican can win the presidency now without winning Florida.
Iowa Republican caucus-goers aren’t going to like Rubio’s stand on immigration reform, though. While he hasn’t endorsed the DREAM Act Democrats tried to pass in 2010, he has advanced his own version of legislation that would make accommodations for some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
The Hill’s Niall Stanage recently mentioned some of the other weaknesses Rubio would take into a presidential campaign.
But Rubio’s immigrant tale has also caused some complications for him. Last year, he was accused of having embellished the story of his parents’ arrival in the United States to give the impression that they had fled Fidel Castro’s regime. In fact, Rubio’s parents had come to the United State before Castro came to power.
To critics, the controversy over the story was one of several that could prove to be vulnerabilities for the senator if he takes a step onto a bigger stage. They point to a controversy over the use of a Florida Republican Party credit card during his time as Florida House Speaker. Rubio used the card for significant personal expenses, but said he paid the credit card company when he got the bill.
“In hindsight, it looks bad, right?” Rubio acknowledged in an interview with Fox News earlier this year. “I mean, why are you using a party credit card at all?”
Rubio also drew criticism by recording a campaign robo-call for his friend, outgoing-Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.), who had come under investigation by both the FBI and the IRS.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.