On Monday Florida Senator Marco Rubio became the latest candidate to enter the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
As a Democrat, I think Rubio might well be the strongest potential challenger that Hillary Clinton (or whoever the Democratic nominee will be) could face. He is young (43), photogenic, articulate and has a compelling life story.
He is the bilingual son of Cuban immigrants to Florida. His father was a bartender and his mother worked as a maid. (Rubio, however, embellished the story by originally claiming that his parents fled Cuba to escape the Castro regime, when in fact they left in 1956, three years before Castro came to power.) He obtained his college and law degrees with the help of scholarships and student loans.
And– unusually for a Republican candidate– he spoke rather movingly in his announcement speech about the struggles of low-income workers and their families.
Whether or not we remain a special country will depend on whether that journey is still possible for those trying to make it now:
The single mother who works long hours for little pay so her children don’t have to struggle the way she has…
The student who takes two buses before dawn to attend a better school halfway across town…
The workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices … and the bartenders who tonight are standing in the back of a room somewhere…
But as Ed Kilgore observes about Rubio: “He’s the symbol of change in the GOP, without really making many concessions that strain conservative orthodoxy.”
He opposes not only an increase in the minimum wage, but minimum wage laws themselves. And he’s clearly no friend of organized labor, which has historically helped move low-income workers into the middle class.
Instead he falls back on GOP cliches about the dangers of “big government” and about how reducing regulations and taxes will help create millions of good-paying jobs.
(A question: can anyone point to an example of a capitalist country where reducing government regulations resulted in better wages, benefits and working conditions for the lowest-income workers?)
On the one issue where Rubio appeared to challenge GOP orthodoxy– immigration reform– he quickly backtracked in the wake of conservative outrage.
Rubio, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 with the strong backing of Tea Party Republicans, surprised conservatives in 2013 when he helped champion a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill. The bill sought to beef up border security while also creating a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the USA.
The bill, crafted by Rubio and seven other senators, known as the “Gang of Eight,” was approved by the Senate in 2013. However, it stalled in the House when Tea Party conservatives denounced it as amnesty and convinced GOP House leaders not to bring it to a vote.
Rubio, stung by criticism from fellow conservatives, began backing off his support for the bill soon after the Senate passed it. In February, he told the Conservative Political Action Conference that he has learned his lesson on the issue and now believes that the Southwest border must be secured before anything can be done to help undocumented immigrants.
I hope Rubio will let us know when the border is sufficiently secured to suit him.
Nonetheless I think Rubio will be a strong candidate for the GOP nomination, especially if fellow Floridian Jeb Bush’s campaign fails to take off.
One interesting sidelight about Rubio is that he is a fan of the original gangster rappers N.W.A. and their song “Straight Outta Compton.” If he ends up as president, I won’t be happy, but I’d at least hope he would invite them to perform the song at his Inaugural Gala.