Rubio, GOP’s last hope?

A piece in the Economist notes that the best hope for the GOP is Marco Rubio “HIS father Mario, a struggling bartender; Oriales, a hotel maid and devoted mother; Pedro, his garrulous, cigar-smoking grandfather, known to the grandchildren as Papá; an elder brother, also Mario, who became a Green Beret: the supporting cast in Marco Rubio’s back-story is a technicolour pageant of striving Cuban immigrants turned patriotic Americans. If Mr Rubio somehow manages to seize the Republican nomination from Donald Trump—a feat that, after his second-place finish in South Carolina, he seems best-placed to achieve—Americans will hear his story often”.

The piece goes on to note that the Rubio story “is also, of course, a story about Mr Rubio’s own exceptionalism—as some voters, knowing American meritocracy is often more promise than reality, intuitively understand. “It’s really cool,” said a young man cradling a baby after a rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina, “that he could navigate through all these obstacles—it wasn’t just handed to him on a silver platter”. The contrast with some other candidates, privileged in money, schooling or connections, is plain. As for his difficulties with mortgage payments and ill-advised property dealings, which some have used against him: Mr Rubio adduces them, like his student debt and rueful talk of post-dating cheques in pinched times, as yet more evidence that he alone can “talk to people who are living the way I grew up”.

The article goes on to mention “These attributes bolster his claim that, in a field of Republican gargoyles, he is likeliest to prevail in November. Yet the longer he remains in the race, the louder two key criticisms will become. They seem contradictory, but both contain elements of truth. One is that, beneath the altar-boy haircut, winning smile, chirpy voice, football talk, jokes and jokes about football, Mr Rubio is as ideologically extreme as anyone in the contest. The other is that the feel-good narrative masks a void”.

It goes on to note that “Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor during Mr Rubio’s lightning rise through its house of representatives, which took him, in short order, from whip, to majority leader, to become, aged 34 (he is now 44), its first Cuban-American speaker. Alongside the portraits of his grizzlier predecessors that hang in the capitol in Tallahassee, his is startlingly boyish. Mr Bush presented him with a sword, symbolising conservatism; at least, that is what it symbolised then. Strikingly, in the tussle that ended with Mr Bush’s withdrawal on February 20th—a face-off that, in a saner primary season, might have been the headline drama—most of Florida’s Republican establishment lined up behind the former governor”.

Interestingly it contends that “if Mr Rubio could not rely on a parental Rolodex, as he puts it, his career has been blessed in other ways: seats opening up at serendipitous moments, money and well-paid jobs magically materialising. Norman Braman, a Miami car-dealing tycoon, took a lucrative shine to him, donating generously and employing his wife. Not long after he secured the Florida speakership, Mr Rubio landed a $300,000-a-year post at a politically connected legal firm (he once specialised in land-use law). Some of his jobs were not terribly demanding, suggesting, to his critics, a pattern of absenteeism stretching to his poor attendance record in the Senate. “He’s just like Barack Obama”, worried a woman in Florence, where Tim Scott, a South Carolinian senator, whooped Mr Rubio onto the stage like a boxing announcer. The implicit concern is that he has more offices to his name than achievements, or, some say, principles. They point, above all, to his gymnastics over immigration: running for the Senate, he opposed a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, then embraced it as part of a doomed reform in 2013; now, in the xenophobic heat of the campaign, he downplays that idea, arguing that terrorism has upended even unrelated aspects of his policy”.

The piece notes interestingly, “anyone who thinks Mr Rubio entirely devoid of convictions should watch his farewell speech in Tallahassee in 2008. “God is real,” Mr Rubio passionately declared: “He loves you…whether you are an embryo or behind bars.” God’s providence, and Mr Rubio’s gratitude for it, often feature in his story. His faith is longstanding: as a boy, he would don a sheet after mass and pretend to be a priest. (It is also ecumenical: in Miami, he attends both Catholic and Baptist churches, and during a childhood spell in Las Vegas went to a Mormon one.) And for all his pole-climbing, his philosophy has been consistent. A better reading of his flip-flop-flip on immigration may be that his liberal stance was an anomaly. His tougher line today—no Syrian refugees; fewer family-reunion visas—fits into an ultra-conservative outlook that his story has sometimes camouflaged”.

The piece notes that the usual GOP obsession with making society more unequal persists, “Take his avowed commitment to helping the little guy. He acknowledges the alienation some members of minorities feel, drawing on his own experiences in cosmopolitan Miami. He speaks warmly of early intervention for disadvantaged toddlers, and of leniency towards mildly straying youngsters. He can be insightful about America’s precarious place in a globalised, post-industrial economy. But when it comes to taxation, his priorities lie elsewhere. One of his favourite lines is that the poor are not made richer by making the rich poorer. Under his plans there is no fear of that: his proposal to scrap taxes on capital-gains and dividends would instead make the rich richer”.

On foreign policy the piece makes the observation that “he may not be quite as hawkish as his revered Papá, who thought Margaret Thatcher should invade Argentina as well as the Falklands, but it is close. He says he would cancel the nuclear deal with Iran on his first day in office, and undo the normalisation of relations with Cuba. He wants to send American troops into Syria, and take on Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State at once. He threatens to pack off more terrorists to Guantánamo”.

The article concludes, “he shows little appetite for compromise on the neuralgic issues that will continue to divide America under its next president. That might hamstring him in the White House; more immediately, it might prevent him reaching it. His well-honed formula—robust conservatism with a smile—will attract some voters who share his instincts but are repelled by harsher rhetoric. Whether it can convert moderates in sufficient numbers is unclear. That is where the story comes in. “It makes him a whole person, a real person”, said a supporter in a barn in Gilbert, as the obligatory country music rolled. Transmuting astringent economics into compassion, promising tolerance without a cost, wreathing jeremiads in sunshine, the story might even do the trick. Mr Rubio’s inauguration is the climax its logic demands. In the end, its meaning is simple. The moral of the story is its teller, Marco Rubio”.

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