A Second Look at Rubio

Between the years of 2010 and 2012, nobody’s star seemed to be rising faster than that of Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio was elected after running a strong anti-establishment campaign in 2010 that went after the state’s popular governor, Charlie Crist, for not being conservative enough. When Crist, who was backed by the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee) in the primary, started falling behind in the polls, he decided to run as an independent. Rubio then won a three-way race between him, Crist, and the Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek. (Rubio’s case against Crist was further vindicated when the former governor endorsed President Obama in 2012, and later became a Democrat.)

Rubio’s ascent was so pronounced that after only two years in the Senate, the telegenic senator was tabbed to give the speech introducing Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention. He was even considered for the running-mate spot on the ticket.

After the 2012 election, his star seemed to climb even higher. Conservative pundits from across the spectrum all seemed to agree that a large part of what the Republican Party needed to do to compete in a presidential election was appeal to the Hispanics. Rubio, who is the child of Cuban immigrants, seemed tailor-made for the role of the new, fresh face of the GOP. It was to a very large extent due to that, that he was chosen to give the response to the first State of the Union address after the president’s reelection.

It was at that point that the Rubio star started to fade. Having built up all that goodwill, along with his solidly conservative credentials, Rubio turned to immigration reform. Conservatives could trust him, he said. He promised that he would end up getting an immigration package through that would be so conservative, the issue of amnesty for those already here would even be something the most extreme right-wingers would be willing to accept.

That would not end up being the case.

Rubio later admitted that his advocacy for a flawed immigration reform bill was a “mistake,” but for conservative voters, the damage was done. Gone was the “Marco is our Hero” refrain; instead, he was being called “Rubio the RINO [Republican in Name Only].” And with the rise of Chris Christie, who won reelection by what seemed to be an impressive margin, Rubio seemed to be relegated to being an also-ran in 2016.

There was another issue that set Rubio apart from most of the other Republican presidential contenders. While this did not get too much play, it was sure to cause him problems during a long and hard-fought primary.

After the over-entanglement of the Bush years, there seemed to be a turn in Americans’ way of thinking wherein a noninterventionist approach was preferred over what had been the United States foreign policy of the previous few decades. This played no small part in President Obama’s rise in 2008 when his “I told you so” approach on the hardship caused by the war in Iraq contrasted sharply with Senator John McCain’s calls (albeit jokingly) to bomb Iran. Americans had had enough. They had grown weary and fatigued from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and did not want to get involved in wars that did not have a clear and defined objective.

Rubio’s positions on foreign policy issues are more hawkish and neoconservative than those of the rest of the contenders for 2016. These views are the ones that played a big role in shaping the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror. As a matter of fact, Rubio’s chief of staff, Cesar Conda, is a former advisor to Dick Cheney.

However, while many had written off his presidential ambitions because of these two reasons, recent events have given cause for a second look at a potential President Rubio.

With Governor Christie seeing his hopes diminished due to the “bridgegate” scandal, there appears to be an open field. The media, having accomplished its goal in tearing down the frontrunner of the GOP race, is furiously trying to come up with a scandal that involves another prospective leader, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Rubio is benefiting from being written off in the sense that nobody is trying to cut him down anymore. This insulates him from the spotlight of the media.

Conventional wisdom has been that the Republican nominee will likely be a governor. The argument for this is simple: only someone with executive experience can clean up the mess left behind by the current administration. But the recent unrest in Venezuela and the upheaval surrounding Russia has called that thinking into question. For a governor, the presidency is the first exposure to foreign policy that he or she will have. Senators, on the other hand, sit on committees that deal with all sorts of issues pertaining to defense, security and diplomacy.

It is here that Rubio is starting to shine, and reminding people why he was so highly thought of.

After Senator Tom Harkin gave a speech extolling the virtues of present-day Cuba, Rubio took to the Senate floor and blasted the Iowa Democrat. “You think Cuba’s a paradise?” thundered Rubio. “You think it’s an example and a model that we should be following? You’re free to say that, here, in the press and anywhere you want. But we’re also free to come here and tell the truth. We’re also free to come here and denounce the violations of human rights and brutality.”

Rubio spoke without notes, and made strong and clearly heartfelt points. He enumerated the human rights violations in Venezuela and Cuba, and showed that he could be an able advocate for the merits of freedom and capitalism.

But the more impressive showing came when Russia made its illegal grab of Crimea from Ukraine, after the Ukrainians had overthrown their prime minister who was a Russian puppet. In an op-ed in Politico, Rubio laid out eight clear and achievable actions the United States should and could take to make Russia pay for what it had done.

It is clear that while other contenders are out scoring points with the base or shouting down constituents, Rubio is busy being the adult in the room.

In the end, since the immigration bill did not end up becoming law, it may end up being easier for the base to forgive Senator Rubio for what he did back in 2013. And the actions being taken by Putin make it clear that adopting an extreme isolationist tack is not the way to approach foreign relations. It is already a political eternity later, and there are no residual effects from what he had done then, so it may just make the most sense to hand things over to the one who seems to be the most competent overall.

And right now that looks like Rubio.