Republican “savior” Marco Rubio has had the type of week to make conservative salivate. Let’s recap.
- “Americans for Prosperity” a right-wing, anti-tax, anti-government group has gave Rubio its only A+ score for 2012 in the US Senate
- Rubio was one of 15 Republican Senators who signed a letter asking the President to withdraw the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. Citing concerns about Hagel’s positions on Iran the letter did not specifically mention anything that would disqualify Hagel based on vital American national security interests but instead amounted to the regurgitation of neo-conservative talking points and political posturing
- Rubio cast a vote to continue to filibuster on the Hagel nomination which was unprecedented for a cabinet nominee
- Rubio voted against Hagel’s confirmation
- Rubio was invited to be one of the highlight speakers at CPAC
- Rubio appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” and spent the entire interview reciting conservative talking points about budgets and taxes
Marco Rubio continued this week his march towards the most conservative elements in GOP electorate. In January, Rubio cast a Fiscal Cliff “no” vote, while reciting a laundry list of reasons that were taken from right-wing think tanks and opinion journals to justify his position. Rubio’s rhetoric is appealing to the most conservative GOP elements as well as potential Iowa Caucus goers. In December, Rubio voted against the UN Disabilities Treaty which enjoyed bi-partisan support, again with a likely eye towards 2016. Rubio’s vote on the Fiscal Cliff bill puts him at odds with almost his entire Senate GOP caucus and its leader Mitch McConnell but ties him more to Tea Party Caucus House members who almost universally rejected the deal. Rubio’s rejection of Hagel was shared by most of his GOP colleagues but he stalked out an extreme position on the issue announcing his opposition to Hagel the day of his Armed Services Committee hearing and co-signing an extreme letter to the White House, which was only signed by 1/3 of the GOP Senate Conference.
Those who think Marco Rubio just accidentally misspoke about the age of the planet in November, have not been paying attention to previous Iowa Republican Presidential Caucuses. With Rubio the flavor of the month for Republicans who are desperate to reach out to Latino and young voters, the freshman US Senator is smartly putting himself towards the right on economic and religious/social issues while seeking middle ground on immigration policy.
The challenge for Rubio is to somehow keep the Republican Party desperate for him while continuing to play his cards correctly with BOTH national Republican power brokers/media elites AND the fundamentalist Iowa caucus goers. The Iowa Caucus winners on the GOP side include the televangelist Pat Robertson, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. To say Iowa, a largely Democratic state at the Presidential level has a religious dominated Republican caucus would be an understatement. Rubio has to show he can connect with this important base of Iowa voters if he is to get one of the few tickets out of Iowa to New Hampshire, assuming he runs for President in 2016.
Previous Republican “flavors of the month” have fizzled out almost entirely. After Obama’s first election Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was the presumptive 2012 frontrunner. Then he gave his State of the Union response and has been under a rock ever since. A year later it was Chris Christie and we know how Republicans feel today about him. Remember after the 1994 election when Pete Wilson was going to be the GOP savior? Heck, the Republicans even awarded San Diego, where Wilson had been Mayor the 1996 convention because he was going to be the nominee! Well Wilson’s race-baiting cost the GOP California for a generation and hastened the movement of Latino voters to the Democrats. Wilson himself didn’t last long in the 1996 Presidential Race and has been quietly marginalized since.
Having watched Marco Rubio closely in the State House, I believe he is more politically savvy than the individuals listed above but who knows if lady luck will smile on him in a few years time. But one thing is for certain, Rubio can control certain elements of his likeability and electability. Three months into the “Rubio is the GOP savior” era, the Florida Senator appears to be playing his cards well with the exception of his mock-able but understandable sip of water in the SOTU response.
Should Rubio slip up, it could benefit either of Florida’s last two Governors. Jeb Bush is still a popular conservative media elite choice for President even if this country has a very strong case of Bush fatigue. At the same time, Charlie Crist could choose to sit out the Governors race in 2014 and run as a Democrat either against Rubio in 2016 or in a seat that is opened up thanks to Rubio being on the national ticket.
Marco Rubio’s every move bears watching as the domino effect on Florida and perhaps national politics will be fascinating to observe.