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The Rubio Disappointment

This post originally appeared in Investor's Business Daily

As a matter of political philosophy, conservatives avoid granting messianic status to politicians – notwithstanding Republicans’ recent penchant for re-naming every rest stop, park bench and sinkhole after Ronald Reagan.

Ideology that embraces citizen government should eschew the deification of political leaders. Human beings are fallible, politicians perhaps most of all, and Republicans ought to know this.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was, for a time, an exception to the rule.  From his shocking upset of then-Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 senate primary, to his election that November, to the fluid way he served up Tea Party tenets, he caused conservatives to swoon.  Throw in the fact that he speaks Spanish and still has most of his hair, and that was it.  Rubio was the Next One, the Republican Obama.

For conservatives, this was intellectually inconsistent.  Lately, it seems they know it.

Disenchantment began gradually.  There were picayune rumblings over whether Rubio had embellished his parents’ history as Cuban exiles, he was passed over for the vice presidential spot on the 2012 Republican ticket, and he mangled a key passage in his address to the GOP Convention, calling for more “government over more freedom.”

Serious image trouble started with his response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in February of 2013.  He looked awful – not Bobby Jindal-awful, but awful nonetheless.

For a GOP presidential aspirant, this simply isn’t good enough.  Democrats have the luxury of being able to look bad, get things wrong, and still win elections with the help of a cordial press. Republican candidates, meanwhile, as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was once advised, “need to be doing it better and cleaner than the other guy.”

These are largely optics, which are important in politics.  But the real Rubio letdown has come from his befuddled and baffling support of the 1,200-page immigration bill working its way through Congress.  To his erstwhile supporters, the fact that Rubio would champion this legislation shows how quickly he has become a creature of Washington, DC.

Politicians and journalists care deeply about “immigration reform.”  Regular Americans, by and large, do not.  Polls consistently show Americans are more concerned about the economy, deficits, health care, the growth of the federal government, and a host of other issues than they are about immigration.

Rubio’s disaffected fans sent him to the Senate to champion their beliefs, not to focus on what the New York Times thinks is important.  And if he were to stray, they wish he would be right, or effective.  This effort seems like amnesty, decorated with promises of “border enforcement” that will go unfulfilled.

History does not support the oft-repeated nostrum that Republicans must embrace this sort of thing to woo Hispanic voters.  Hispanics account for about 8.4% of the electorate.  Had the GOP captured 70% of their votes in the 2012 presidential race, Obama would still have won.  Further, the last time outright amnesty was enacted, in 1986, Republicans’ share of the Hispanic vote declined in the next federal election. 

If Rubio ever did aspire to win the White House, these leftward moves have been unwise, no matter what Lindsey Graham might be cooing in his ear.  There is an appetite in the land for what Rubio was meant to embody – a rebirth of individual liberty.

Democrats overjoyed at their ascendancy may cluck that America has rejected conservative politics.  The reality is that, on the national level, true conservatism has not been offered for some time.

The last two cycles at least, Republicans have had to settle for presidential candidates that provoked something less than unbridled enthusiasm.  Indeed, in 2008 and 2012, Republican enthusiasm was very, very bridled.  This was a function of a weak field in 2012, and a misbegotten nomination process in 2008.

Mitt Romney might have been a competent manager, but nothing in his record or rhetoric suggested he would undertake real reform, such as many Republicans crave.

As for Sen. John McCain, from authoring legislation that contravenes the First Amendment, to obsessing over fashionable silly-bears like “climate change,” he represents Washington Republicanism at its worst.  Even if he had somehow been elected, one suspects his act would have worn thin after one term. (Question: If McCain had won in 2008, would Hillary Clinton be president today?  Discuss.)

Rubio emulates McCain, if not in cantankerousness, in senatorial detachment from the actual concerns of Americans.  Witness the appalling contrast between Rubio’s 2010 self and the more recent, Schumer-snuggling version, flailing to defend what he himself calls a “laundry list” of immigration expenditures.

As syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer says of the proposed legislation, “it’s all inputs.” Rubio trumpets the 20,000 new border patrol agents, the 700-mile wall, the drones, and, most of all, the money being spent.  After barely three years in the Senate, he imagines this is a strong argument.

In this way, Rubio demonstrates why America has only elected three of its presidents directly from the self-described “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.”

Marco Rubio was never the answer to America’s problems, and conservatives should not expect any politician to be.

Theo Caldwell hosts TV’s Global Command Centre – theo@theocaldwell.com

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