A Man of Many Bases: Thoughts on Marco Rubio

by Daniel Kees

Unlike many top politicians, Republican primary candidate Marco Rubio doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis—at least not on paper. His backstory is captivating; it effectively paints him as the American Dream Incarnate. His parents immigrated to the United States to escape then-Prime Minister Fidel Castro. (Well, they actually left the island about three years earlier—when Dictator Fulgencio Batista controlled Cuba—for economic reasons. But let’s not get distracted by the little things. I mean, the first story’s more compelling, anyway.)

A first-generation Cuban American, Rubio was determined to make a better life for his family. His mother worked mainly as a cashier and housekeeper while his father served as a hotel bartender. After attending a couple of colleges (one of which was a community college), Rubio graduated from the University of Florida and eventually the University of Miami School of Law. Both his ethnic and academic background make him “diverse” in a field where many of the contenders enjoyed more privileged beginnings and hail from ivy-covered institutions. Rubio was also the mentee of Jeb Bush—a last name that commands instant recognition in virtually all political circles. To top it all off, Rubio’s a charmer. His speeches have been known to move people to tears, and his anti-establishment message—which surprisingly focuses more on themes like hope for the American Dream as opposed to the usual Doom and Gloom that has characterized GOP rhetoric in the last few elections—resonates with a wide range of voters. Did I mention that Tea Partiers love him? So he could potentially bring in Tea Partiers. And pro-immigration Hispanics at the same time. He’s a man of many talents, indeed.

In the Senate, Rubio is known for distilling complicated policy ideas into easily accessible nuggets on which the public can ruminate, an extremely useful skill when running for public office. He’s proven time and again that he can work on both sides of the aisle. However, sometimes this chameleon power makes him harder to pin down, ideologically. This is most evident in his plans to revise the tax code. Rubio originally proposed moderate benefits to the middle class with significant cuts for those making the big bucks. His model stood in stark contrast to the typical conservative model, which often relies almost solely on huge tax cuts for the rich. Rubio, the brilliant political mind that he is, was attempting to have it both ways. In politics, as in life, that can be dangerous.

When his proposal wasn’t met with “rave reviews” (maybe he should consult the writers of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” for tips on how to be America’s new plucky, socially-conscious sweetheart), Rubio stood his ground. Sort of. The benefits remained, but he added increasingly regressive tax cuts for the rich. Assuming we don’t want the deficit to implode, this plan isn’t feasible; something has to give. The usual answer? Cut social spending! Republicans often offer (somewhat vague) promises to reduce social spending as a way to offset their ambitious fiscal plans. Still, Rubio has made no such promise as of yet. So how is he going to make this brilliantly convoluted plan work? Your guess is as good as mine. Still, I can’t wait to see him try.

We can’t ignore the elephant in the room (such a great unintentional pun): Rubio’s young. At 43, his announcement makes him currently the youngest serious presidential contender in a field populated by much older figures, many of whom have been on the political scene for at least a quarter century. His relative inexperience and comparative lack of name recognition may hurt him, but he’s not one to sleep on. Even if he doesn’t garner the nomination, he’d be a great VP to Scott Walker or Bush, two front-runners. This also sets him up well for future races, which could pit him against the likes of Paul Ryan, Cory Booker and other bright young stars.

At the very least, this could be a good debut for Marco Rubio. He represents so much to so many people and is a breath of fresh air at a time when the Grand Ole Party sorely needs it. He’s ethnic and smart. He’s a great orator and quite personable. In short, he’s the brave young warrior the GOP desperately needs. But his broad appeal is a double-edged sword. He’ll have to define his stances in the coming months and stick to them. Surely, he’ll alienate some blocs while invigorating others. Still, if he plays his cards right, this could be a breakout moment for Mr. Rubio.