The core theme of Marco Rubio’s presidential candidacy is a rhetorical con.
Rubio, who launched Monday, thinks that he represents “the future” just because he is young. He thinks that Hillary Clinton is “a leader from yesterday,” someone who will “take us back to yesterday,” just because she is older. But policy and ideology are more important than age – and the demonstrable truth is that young Rubio, by dint of his backward Republican creds, brings to mind that classic Beatles lyric: He believes in yesterday.
I have no idea whether Rubio can win the Republican nomination. He’s at single digits in the GOP polls. He’s a backup choice for the party-establishment donors and deep-pocket Floridians who are flocking to his former mentor, Jeb Bush; a backup choice for the Christian conservatives who pine for Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal; a backup choice for the tea-partiers whose hearts beat faster for Scott Walker or Cruz; a backup choice for the libertarians who somehow think that Rand Paul has a prayer. Maybe Rubio is just a veep candidate in training.
But if he does manage to top the ticket, and square off with Hillary in a general election, his youth=future theme would likely collapse like a bad souffle:
1. At a time when most people believe that undocumented immigrants should have a 21st-century path to citizenship – 56 percent of Americans, according to a CBS News poll last month; 59 percent, according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll in February – Rubio believes in yesterday. In other words, he agrees with the nativist conservatives who say that a citizenship path is amnesty. Which is quite a switch for Rubio, who started his Senate career as a citizen-path reformer. But after he got savaged by the right, he did a Romneyesque flip-flop. He shelved reform and went nativist.
Rubio seems to think that he can score heavily with Hispanic voters just because he’s Hispanic. (That’s the kind of “identity politics” that Republicans supposedly detest.) The hitch is, most Hispanic voters support a path to citizenship and have long been hostile to Republicans who oppose it. Imagine how they’d feel, in a general election, about an Hispanic candidate who panders to the reactionaries.
2. On the issue of Cuba, Rubio is truly a leader from yesterday. At a time when 68 percent of Cuban-American voters in the Miami area, including 88 percent of those under age 30, support the restoration of full U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba – those stats are from a Florida State University Poll – Rubio still lives in 1960. He opposes all efforts, accelerated lately by President Obama, to thaw the Cold War with Cuba.
Supposedly, his candidacy is predicated on the notion that he can win pivotal Florida in a general election, with pivotal help from Hispanic voters. But on Cuba issue, he’s so last century. Another poll, this one from Bendixen & Amandi International, a Florida-based firm that regularly queries the Cuban community, reports that 66 percent of Cuban voters born in America support Obama’s normalization policy.
Actually, most Cuban voters – especially the young who’d supposedly be enthralled by Rubio’s youth – don’t even view Cuba as a top priority. Like other Hispanics, they care most about the kitchen-table issues that affect their everyday lives. Speaking of which: According to the latest Gallup stats, Hispanics have been prime beneficiaries of Obamacare; the uninsured rate among Hispanics has dropped 8.3 percent since the end of 2013. Gallup says, “The significant drop in uninsured Hispanics is a key accomplishment.”
Rubio opposes Obamacare. I’d love to see him explain that to Hispanic voters in a general election campaign.
3. At a time when two-thirds of Americans favor candidates who’d fight climate change, Rubio lives in the Galileo era with the science deniers. The irony that he announced his candidacy yesterday in Miami, a city that’s already experiencing the downside of climate change, is self-evidently delicious.
Here’s how Rubio assessed the issue last year: “I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate. Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to man-made activity, I do not agree with that.”
In other words, he doesn’t buy the science and he doesn’t think we should do anything. By contrast, according to the poll referenced in the previous paragraph, “83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future.”
That would be the same future Rubio purports to represent, solely on the basis of his youth. Good luck with that.
Yo, local political junkies:
You’re no doubt familiar with Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who wrote frequently about Saddam Hussein’s (alleged) weapons of mass destruction – thus enabling the Bush-Cheney march to war. She wound up as an ex-Times reporter. Her new memoir is getting savage reviews.
Tomorrow night, I’m interviewing her on stage at the Philadelphia Free Library. Feel free to come; in fact, admission is free. I’ll also read questions from the audience.