Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rubio 2016!

This article first appeared on The Epoch Times

     The race for the 2016 presidential nomination has already begun - unofficially.  Top Republicans are beginning to position themselves as presidential hopefuls by giving addresses to certain interest groups at a variety of conferences and forums.  At this juncture, it would appear the two front runners are Senators Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY). 

     The Tea Party has recently criticized the government concerning the stories of NSA surveillance and supposed violations of privacy.  The Tea Party/Libertarian ideology has seen tremendous support for its firm stance of liberty over security.  However, the two front runners for the 2016 nomination are not right for the party and would struggle to win in a general election.

     Rand Paul, the straw poll winner at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) the last two years, has received harsh criticism lately for his foreign policy views not just from liberals, but from conservatives as well.  Conservative columnist for the Washington Post Jennifer Rubin recently opined, “his foreign policy views bear an uncanny resemblance to the far left’s anti-interventionism and deep suspicions about America’s international motivations.”  Rubin also quoted Rich Lowry, editor at Nation Review as saying, “Paul likes to call his foreign policy ‘realism,’ but his record on Russia suggests the label is inapt.  Earlier this year, he held out the Syrian chemical-weapons deal…as a model for future diplomacy.  He thought the Russians were a partner for peace, right on the cusp of their launching a war.”  Additionally, many question Paul’s ability to gain votes from Evangelical Christians, a key to the Republican base, for his foreign policy views and his views on issues such as abortion.
     Ted Cruz is a bit more extreme than Rand Paul.  Many believe he was the puppet master pulling the strings behind the government shutdown last fall, which has come back to haunt him somewhat.  Cruz has been hailed as one of the staunchest opponents of Obamacare and nearly all of the administration’s policies authoring such pieces titled "The Imperialist Presidency of Barack Obama."  Cruz has not been known for his views on foreign policy but has made a name for himself as a Tea Party darling for his stand on reining-in big government and championing domestic issues.  In terms of foreign policy, Cruz has, for the most part, played it safe and stuck to conservative guns - Reagan-like intervention and defending American values

     Regarding other potential GOP candidates, Jeb Bush seems too out of touch with the base and has received criticism for his views on immigration.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would appear to be finished as the George Washington Bridge scandal and pending investigation have tarnished his image as a great compromising Republican in a heavily blue state with allegations that he's actually an arm twisting, back-door dealing, corrupt politician.
     Then there is Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.  Rubio has been touted as a presidential hopeful but has not received the same attention as Cruz and Paul.  Rubio gained a great deal of attention after a speech he made at CPAC this year regarding President Obama’s foreign policy.  It was the impression of many that Rubio was trying to step into the foreign policy realm to bolster his candidacy in 2016.  In his speech he stated, “All the problems of the world, all the conflicts of the world are being created by totalitarian regimes who are more interested in forcing people to do what they want to do then in truly achieving peace and prosperity…one nation that can stand up to them” is the United States.

     Rubio has supported military action in Syria and Iran.  In a speech in Austin, Texas last week (Ted Cruz’s turf), Rubio remarked that terrorist safe havens in Syria will lead to attacks on the US homeland.  Even more assertive, Rubio affirmed that he would use military force in response to a nuclear Iran asserting, “I think it's that serious of a threat.”  Paul has effectively demurred on the use of military force in Iran and voted with liberals on resolutions, but he has recently back tracked by clarifying his position as one of anti-containment.

     Rubio has also reiterated his stance on entitlements stating, “More than any other administration in modern American history, they [liberals] go to Americans that are struggling and they tell them, ‘The reason you're worse off is because someone is doing too well. It is someone else's fault that you're going through these difficult times and the only solution is to give government more power to go after those people.’”  Rubio has held this position for a long time and has played up his story as the child of Cuban immigrant parents who worked to achieve the American Dream.

     Jobs have been a high priority for Rubio for the entirety of his time in office.  He has done a great job boiling every political fight into jobs.  Rubio wrote of the Paycheck Fairness Act (recently blocked by Republicans), “What Senate Democrats are proposing today will make it easier for trial lawyers to file more lawsuits and collect more legal fees in the name of pay equity, but it won’t actually help create more well-paying jobs and it won’t do anything to help anyone develop the skills they need to do these jobs and get paid more. The American people understand that hard work and sacrifice are the ways to achieve the American Dream.” 

     Rubio has been subject to criticism from some on the right such as conservative pundit Ann Coulter for his stance on immigration reform.  As a member of the “Gang of Eight,” who introduced a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate last year, Rubio has voiced his support for amnesty, a very unpopular stance among conservatives.  While this position may come back to hurt Rubio in the long-term, it can also be spun as Rubio’s willingness to compromise with Democrats on important national issues.

     Rubio, so far, has the most coherent and consistent foreign policy of the preliminary names.  He has also struck a fair balance between Neo-Conservative hawks and more temperate members of his party arguing for a perpetual foreign commitment abroad and American Exceptionalism.    

     Rubio is in virtually the same position Barak Obama was in when he ran for president in 2008 as a first term senator.  As Jamelle Bouie of Slate wrote recently of the previous GOP nominees, “The Republican Party has a long history of nominating candidates who anger and enrage the base. In 1996 there was Bob Dole, in 2008 there was John McCain, and in 2012—after three years of anti-establishment, Tea Party rage—Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who pioneered universal health insurance for his state.”  Bouie goes on to say that Romney, “effectively destroyed Mitt Romney, the moderate Massachusetts governor.”  Rubio does not face this problem given his limited time in the public eye.  While the same can be said for Cruz and Paul, both first term senators as well, they have taken more extreme, dug-in positions.  Rubio embraces the libertarian qualities of a Rand Paul and the anti-government fanaticism of a Ted Cruz but has not flaunted them so blatantly.

     However, as a fiscal conservative, Rubio has made clear he does not want to raise the debt ceiling.  For critics who believe defaulting on the nation’s debt is irresponsible, Rubio replies that accruing a debt of over $14 trillion is irresponsible.  Rubio stated in the Wall Street Journal, “if we simply raise it once again, without a real plan to bring spending under control and get our economy growing, America faces the very real danger of a catastrophic economic crisis.”  Rubio’s fiscal conservatism and commitment to rein in spending is sure to appeal to conservatives across the country.

     Foreign policy knowledge has become a much more important requirement for presidential candidates than it has been in the past.  The 2012 election was solely based on the economy given its fragile state.  However, Republicans have done a good job hammering on the current administration's handling of foreign crises and, lucky for them, there has been no shortage of crisis situations.  As candidates begin to move more strategically into presidential-like roles, foreign policy will weigh heavily on the minds of Americans.  So far, Rubio stands out among the front-runners on this topic and has enjoyed the least criticism.  

     On the domestic front, Rubio has also excelled in touting Republican ideals: jobs, debt, and social issues.  His commitment to making jobs an economic priority has thrust him into the forefront and he has used his personal story of achieving the American Dream to get him there.  His harsh criticism of the rising debt has also garnered support and his Tea Party style politics of refusing to raise the debt ceiling has helped him gain support from far right members of the party.  On social issues, abortion in particular, Rubio has been critical of liberals' support for abortion rights and even opposed the nomination of Sonya Sotomayor, a fellow Hispanic American, to the Supreme Court for her support of Roe v Wade.  This policy decision may bolster his standing with the Evangelical community reaffirming his ideological commitment over heritage.

     The election is still years away but so far the media and the American public have been focused on the wrong candidates, which may be a good thing.  Those who make the most noise tend to get noticed (Cruz's shutdown of the government and Paul's filibuster over drones.)  However, Marco Rubio has taken careful steps to avoid negative media attention and yet has strategically begun a subtle presence establishing his stances on issues such as foreign policy at conferences and forums.  It will be intriguing to see if Rubio lets the front runners duke it out in the first rounds and defeat themselves thereby allowing him to jump to the front of the pack.  Given the baggage of the other candidates, Marco Rubio has the best chance of winning a general election among large swaths of diverse conservative voters and independents.                          

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