Florida Senator Marco Rubio would be a strong conservative choice for the Republican nomination for President.
In this post I will present you with the facts about his strengths and his conservative record. And yes, I’ll also address the two big criticisms, experience and immigration, and lay out why they are strengths for him.
Rubio’s a naturally gifted speaker with a quick mind, unlikely to make a fool of himself on the debate stage. A 44 year old Cuban-American with a beautiful young family and a compelling life story, he provides a strong and positive contrast to the cranky grandparents’ club of Democratic candidates. Throughout the campaign, polls have shown that Rubio is the GOP’s strongest competition against Hillary Clinton — he’s the “electable conservative.”
He’s shown an ability to respond to negative attacks with wit and humor, a crucial skill in what will most certainly be a bare knuckles brawl of an election. The contrast between the Rubio campaign’s lighthearted self-mocking in #RubioCrimeSpree and the ongoing drip-drip-drip of news stories about classified information on Clinton’s email server could not be sharper.
Not all first term Senators are created equal
As we enter the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency, being able to say “I told you so” is little comfort to conservatives who warned he was poorly prepared for the presidency.
Before taking the Oath of Office seven years ago, Obama had been the quintessentialbackbencher. Educated at some of America’s top colleges, he left only the faintest of impressions (compare this with the many interviews of Sen. Ted Cruz’s college classmates andstories of his younger years). Obama’s biggest accomplishment in the Illinois State Senate was competing for the record for most frequently voting “present,” and his U.S. Senate career consisted of little more than getting elected, showing America his great talent for reading TelePrompters at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and then running for President.
It makes sense that Rubio’s competitors would want to lump him in with Obama. The remaining governors in the race — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — all say that their executive experience makes them more qualified for the presidency, and Donald Trump has made similar arguments about his business experience. But in contrast to Obama, Rubio’s path to the presidential campaign trail reveals a history of leadership and conservative decision-making that would serve him well as President.
A record of conservative accomplishments in the Florida Legislature
For Republican voters who want to see a proven record of actually enacting a conservative agenda, Rubio’s tenure in the Florida House of Representatives should be extremely encouraging.
The Florida Legislature has been under Republican control since 1996, and because of term limits (state representatives are limited to four two-year terms), the leadership changes frequently. Rubio was a standout almost immediately, being tapped to serve as Majority Whip less than a year after he was first elected, then advancing to Majority Leader and finally Florida’s first Cuban-American Speaker.
One of Rubio’s last acts before taking up the Speaker’s gavel was to chair a special committee to bolster private property protections in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, which broadened the scope of the government’s “eminent domain” power to seize private property for public uses. Prior to Kelo, “public use” was generally defined as direct government uses, like building highways and schools. The Court’s decision in Kelo allowed the government to take private residential homes and give them to another private owner, a developer who wanted to knock them down and build a resort, with the justification that the area was blighted and the new resort would bring in more tax revenue.
While Trump has repeatedly praised the Kelo decision and has personally sought to profit by using this government power for his own benefit, Florida was one of several Republican-controlled legislatures that quickly moved to push back against what they viewed as an alarming expansion of government power. The bill Rubio spearheaded was one of the strongest anti-Kelo efforts, specifically prohibiting the taking of private property to eliminate or prevent slums, blight conditions, or public nuisances.
When you talk to anyone who worked with Rubio during his time in the Florida Legislature, you’ll hear consistent stories about his intelligence, attention to detail, and passion for policy discussions. His staffers knew he would not only read the briefing papers they prepared for him, but that he would pepper them with questions and challenge any conclusions, wanting to make sure he fully understood the issues. A policy wonk at heart, the way he led the Florida House as Speaker would leave a lasting impression not just on his fellow representatives, but statewide, laying the groundwork for his successful Senate run.
A very influential little book
In September 2005, Rubio kicked off his Speakership by giving a gift to each of his fellow Representatives: a book that said “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future” on the cover and blank pages inside. Rubio told them to collect ideas from their constituents before the next session started. A website was set up to accept submissions, and “idearaiser” town hall events were held around the state.
Originally inspired by Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the 100 Innovative Ideas went far beyond the scope of that 1994 plan that helped bring the Republicans back to power in the Congress and was far more grassroots in nature. State Rep. Dennis Baxley (currently back in the House after a break that allowed the term limit clock to restart) served with Rubio as Speaker Pro Tem and recalled how truly revolutionary the program was. “People finally thought someone was listening,” said Baxley, describing how “exciting” and “transformational” the town hall meeting were.
Eventually, the top ideas were gathered, reviewed and vetted, and Rubio released the finished book, setting forth his agenda and laying out the reasons behind each item. Turning the book into law required Rubio to fight a series of fierce battles, with a skeptical Florida political press, Democrats who were the minority but were nonetheless a vocal opposition, the moderate Republicans who controlled the Florida Senate, and finally Gov. Charlie Crist, who flirted with big-government liberal ideas long before he left the Republican Party.
In the end, all 100 ideas passed the Florida House, and 57 ended up surviving the Senate and Crist’s veto pen to become law. Having the agenda in such a clear, visible format — not to mention the grassroots origins of the ideas — emboldened Rubio and the House Republicans to push back against the critics and naysayers.
A tough negotiator
For the ideas that didn’t pass, Rubio still managed to negotiate some partial victories. Jim Geraghty at National Review wrote a detailed article last year describing how Rubio fought hard for a “bold” tax reform that would have reduced property taxes by $40 to $50 billion. A 1 percent sales tax increase would replace lost education funding, and counties would have the option to eliminate their primary residence property tax all together in exchange for an additional 1.5 percent sales tax.
This was a period where skyrocketing real estate values were creating financial stresses for homeowners worried about affording their property taxes, and the end result of Rubio’s tax plan would have been to shift more of the state’s tax burden from Florida residents to the tourists and owners of vacation homes.
Crist and the Florida Senate proposed a significantly smaller tax cut, then dug in their heels and let the sixty-day legislative session expire. However, as Geraghty noted, “the issue had generated enough public interest that not delivering any property tax relief would be a political disaster, so both chambers agreed to a special session.” The final tax relief that was passed was not as sweeping as Rubio originally hoped, but does illustrate his ability to “drive a hard bargain” and battle until the end with “Republicans he deemed as too passive and comfortable with the status quo.”
A grassroots tea party victory
When Rubio first announced he was running for Senate on May 5, 2009, few political pundits gave him a chance. Crist would toss his hat in the ring a week later, and immediately be on the receiving end of a deluge of endorsements and contribution checks. At the time, Crist was still a Republican and enjoyed sky-high approval ratings, and had much stronger name recognition. Still, Florida conservatives remembered Rubio’s leadership as Speaker, and the way he had tapped into the conservative grassroots to create the “100 Innovative Ideas” agenda.
Behind the scenes, Crist supporters and other party establishment figures were pressuring Rubio to run for Attorney General. The seat was open for 2010 because Bill McCollum was leaving to run for Governor (he would lose the Republican primary to Rick Scott). Rubio was promised that if he ran for Attorney General and did not fight Crist for the Senate seat, then the field would be cleared for him.
Rubio’s friend, State Rep. Baxley, resigned from his position as the Christian Coalition Executive Director so he could endorse Rubio, remembers discussing the idea of switching to the AG race. Rubio told Baxley that his wife Jeanette, was fully on board with him continuing to fight for the Senate seat, but he could see how the other path might be easier. “Marco, you know what Charlie is,” Baxley recalls telling Rubio. “That 70 percent approval rating is a mile wide and an inch deep, and once it rips, it’s going to rip wide open. You just need to get on a statewide ballot, let people know who you are, and you just might win.”
Wow, Republicans are certainly fond of living in the past. What is there in Rubio’s current positions that would make him an “outstanding” candidate?
@Petercat: I’ve been a supporter of Marco Rubio for as long as I’ve been at F.A. He is a proven winner.I believe he will outlast both Trump and Cruz. With Kasich as running mate I believe he can beat Clinton or Sanders and be a great POTUS for the next 8 years.