Marco Rubio Makes it Official

Marco Rubio 2016 Presidential candidate

Photo courtesy of Marco Rubio for President

Marco Rubio Makes it Official
| published April 14, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

When Marco Rubio is asked if it is not too early and too soon in his still young political career to be seriously eyeing the Presidency of the United States, Rubio sometimes points out that Barack Obama was still a first term Senator when he challenged the orthodoxy of the Democratic Party and waded into a complex, crowded field which included—back then—Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Edwards and others. In fact for some Republicans, Rubio is the GOP’s version of Obama—young, handsome, charismatic, eloquent, passionate.

Now, only hours after the press buzz surrounding Hillary Clinton’s much anticipated campaign kickoff—an announcement that came via a video posted on Twitter and other social media on Sunday—Rubio kicks off his own presidential bid for 2016. Rubio says he has one distinct and powerful advantage over Clinton: a belief that Americans want to look toward the future, not the past (translation: Hillary Clinton is rooted too deeply in the past to guide the United States forward into the new millennia). Rubio says the Republican Party is uniquely positioned to look ahead and lead the country forward.

“Yesterday,” Rubio said in a phone call with supporters earlier on Monday, “we heard from a leader from yesterday—who wants to take us back to yesterday—but I feel that this country has always been about tomorrow.”

And there is an added dimension to Rubio’s urging to voters to look to the future: a rematch between a Clinton and a Bush is no way for the country to move ahead. One of Rubio’s most powerful potential GOP opponents will be former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, an equally popular figure in the Sunshine State, and the Republican Party’s de facto front runner in terms of fundraising and cash.

But Rubio shares a part of Hillary Clinton’s recently field-tested narrative. Like Clinton, Rubio wants to talk about jobs, income inequality, and the plight of middle class and lower class Americans. A Rubio campaign can be expected to make the ongoing effects of the Great Recession—and its damage to the American Dream—the centerpiece of his economic talking points.

Rubio also intends to make foreign policy and U.S. security and central part of his agenda as well. Rubio, 43, an unabashed policy wonk on matters of international policy and military affairs, hopes to use his muscular knowledge of such subjects to counter the accusation (one which he is already facing from reporters, Democrats, and even plenty of Republicans) that he is too young and too green for the Presidency. Though extremely popular with conservatives, his one weak spot remains immigration: his 2013 bill--a hybrid approach to U.S. immigration reform--failed to generate interest among Republicans, and the legislation ultimately died in Congress.

Rubio ends many months of speculation about his intentions. A few weeks ago, word leaked out that he was seriously considering running for President in 2016, but that the official announcement would not come until mid-April. Seeking perhaps to steal some of Clinton’s weekend thunder, Rubio made his announcement at a rally on Monday evening, only hours after hinting at his intentions to listeners in a conference call with heavyweight political donors.

Ultimately Rubio will be competing most directly with fellow Floridian Jeb Bush, once Rubio’s closest mentor. Bush and Rubio are political allies and friends whose South Florida homes are only a few miles apart; both speak Spanish, and both are known to reach broadly across party lines. But Bush has launched a fundraising machine which may yet top the cash hauls of every previous Republican combined, and it has been Bush’s robust effort at securing those financial commitments which has effectively marginalized other potential top-tier candidates, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Bush has also locked-in so many of the major GOP supporters and rainmakers that by late January he had effectively pushed Mitt Romney’s fledging phoenix-like rise back into the ash heap.

But Bush is far from a dead-lock on the GOP nomination, and only barely holds the title of front-runner, and Rubio knows this. Rubio joins several other Republicans who have made their candidacies official, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, pediatric neurosurgeon and author Dr. Ben Carson, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Rubio also joins a crowded field of likely or potential candidates, many of whom have already formed the appropriate political action committees and begun fundraising, including Bush and Christie, as well as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Other possible candidates include John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.

In fact, the Associated Press says that long before the first Republican debates later this summer, the GOP field could swell to as many as 20 candidates, an indication—some political analysts suggest—of just how confident Republicans are when it comes to challenging the Clinton franchise and political machine.

Rubio will face the tough sell of convincing voters in the early primaries and caucuses that he deserves their vote more than Bush, Christie, Paul, or others with more experience state governance and the crafting of national legislation.

Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrant parents who left Cuba in late 1956 and made their way to the United States. The young Marco was born in Miami in May of 1971. He attended the University of Florida and later University of Miami Law School.  In the 1990s he became active in politics, working for Presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996, and later getting himself elected to the job of city commissioner in West Miami. In 2000 he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. Rubio’s rise in Florida politics was dramatic and swift, and riding on a surge of conservative and Tea Party support, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Rubio quickly gained prominence in the Republican Party, and was selected to give the introduction speech for GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. After Romney’s loss to President Obama in November 2012, Rubio has been on most analysts short list of potential Presidential candidates.

Rubio made his announcement official in front of a crowd of thousands at Freedom Tower in Miami. Rubio said though his campaign will be “grounded by the lessons of history,” it will most assuredly be about the future. A banner behind him included his campaign’s tentative moniker: A New American Century.

“I know my candidacy might seem improbable,” Rubio told the crowd, “to those watching from abroad. After all, in many countries, the highest office in the land is reserved for the rich and powerful. But I live in an exceptional country. I live in an exceptional country where the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power and privilege.”

The timing of his announcement, only one day after Clinton’s rollout, is neither coincidence nor random good fortune. Unlike many of his potential GOP rivals, Rubio can be expected to make direct and blunt contrasts between himself and Hillary Clinton, his presumed Democratic opponent if he wins the GOP nomination. Rubio and his team have made no secret of the fact that he relishes making those stark comparisons: the Clinton franchise, a dark machine cobbled together without accountability and with uneven—often failed—results; and the future as seen through Rubio’s eyes, where a new generation will lead Americans into the 21st Century. Rubio will also compare the tough, Spartan circumstances of his childhood and political climb to that of the Clinton franchise, which he will characterize as having been built on wealthy donors, massive book royalties, powerful corporate lobbying efforts, huge speaking fees, and rivers of cash.  But mostly, Rubio will target Clinton as a creature of the 1990s.

“Yesterday is over,” Rubio told his audience, “and we are never going back. Before us now is the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America. We can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past.”

Rubio’s words may also be a veiled challenge for Republicans to move past the Bush brand name. Though Jeb Bush is the party’s presumed leader in terms of fundraising, Rubio will be seeking to derail the notion of Bush as front-runner by positioning himself as being well outside the old political templates. His campaign team can be expected to craft a simple message, for both Republicans and Democrats: do we really want another rematch between a Bush and a Clinton?

Rubio is a foreign policy hawk who can be expected to concentrate much of his agenda on international policy and military matters. Rubio has been vocal in his opposition to recent negotiations which seek to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and he has been steadfastly opposed to the recent deals between the U.S. and Iran. Rubio will also—along with several other Republicans—portray the planet as a world on fire, with transcendent challenges on every continent: the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations; terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and Hamas in the ascendant; the threat of terror now permeating every part of Europe, Canada, and Australia; a bullying and threatening Vladimir Putin in Russia, and the dangers posed to much of Eastern Europe; a widening sphere of influence by superpower China, along with its military aspirations; the threat of cyber-terror and its dangers to U.S. military strength and economic security; and hostile dictatorships and political volatility in Central and South America.

When asked about his youthfulness, Rubio relishes the opportunity to compare himself to Obama, whom he has characterized as “a backbencher” while Obama served as a community leader and a member of the Illinois legislature. Rubio tells reporters that from his earliest days in the Florida House of Representatives, he was working hard, and continuously. And his two terms as Speaker of the House, Rubio says, are proof of his skills as a lawmaker and legislator.

Among Republicans, there are two schools of thought about a Rubio-Bush match-up. One view says that a long fight between Bush and Rubio (in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina) leading into Florida will damage both candidates and lead to splintering in the Sunshine State’s all-important primary—the point on the calendar at which top Republican strategists like RNC chair Reince Priebus had hoped to have things coming to a peaceful close. Also, any protracted fight in Florida might endanger an orderly transition for whomever Florida GOP voters choose to fill Rubio’s valuable seat in the U.S. Senate.

The other viewpoint says that a Rubio versus Bush battle will matter little over the long haul, and may in fact help draw national attention to the Sunshine State. Florida’s backbench of highly qualified Republicans is numerous, and the odds favor the GOP to keep Rubio’s Senate seat safe from a Democratic takeover.  And with so many top tier Republicans already in the fray, the odds are long that both Bush and Rubio are forced into a decisive, epic Florida showdown.

Mitt Romney lost in Florida by a narrow percentage in 2012, a fact that still stings among Republican number-crunchers. The GOP hopes to tilt Florida back into the Republican column by Election Day 2016.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Hillary Clinton Makes it Official; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 13, 2015.

Marco Rubio to Enter GOP Contest; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; March 30, 2015.