I listened to Marco Rubio's appearance on Rush today with utter fascination. Thus far in his term, Rubio has cut an image of himself as a rank-and-file Republican unifier who has taken some very good votes (notably as a "no" on raising the debt ceiling). Though elected as a tea party favorite, Rubio has spent the last two years working within the Senate, not outside of it (like Rand Paul has, and clearly what Ted Cruz plans on doing).
What Rubio is attempting to do here, as he explains with Rush, is very interesting and a huge gamble. First of all, it was a big deal that he was live on Limbaugh's show. For those who don't know, Rush almost never has guests live on the show. But by going to Rush, he is taking on an issue that animates the base and talking directly with them. This isn't a case of the GOP intelligentsia telling us we have to reform or we have to accept this. This is one of us putting together a very thoughtful plan to reflect our principles and accomplish real reform. He's not talking down to anyone, nor is he lecturing the base. Its important that Rubio took this to Rush Limbaugh directly. He isn't a guy like Sean Hannity that just spews talking points and never has had an original thought in his life (even the base knows this). Rubio has to understand there are some conservatives he won't win over, but he's coming at them with respect and seeking consultation. It is an important distinction against what McCain and Graham tried to do five years ago.
Politically, Rubio as wielding a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he is heading off President Obama and calling his bluff. Obama has called over and over for a changed tone and reaching across the aisle. Most of us understand is bullshit, he's just trying to shame Republicans into caving to him and destroying the party. But because Rubio has gotten out in front of him, because he is Hispanic, and because he's working with two of the President's closest Senate allies (Schumer and Durbin); he is cornering Obama into actually putting his money where his mouth is.
On the other hand, Rubio is both giving covering too, and daring, fellow Republicans. His status as the party's highest profile Hispanic means a lot here. Rubio's Senate election was a galvanizing moment for conservatives, one that we pointed to to prove that a conservative minority is welcomed and can win in the party. There is a connection that is beyond bullet points on a platform. He can act like a sheppard for many conservatives and Republicans who normally wouldn't trust anything Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham do together. Rubio is also trading on the fact that he is an early presidential front-runner who checks all the boxes that hurt us the last two elections is enough to mullify enough conservatives to get something passed. Its one thing to beat up on Lindsey Graham and John McCain, its another to beat up on a young swing-state minority senator who can expand the party's message in a national election. If Rubio where to be the nominee and run with another swing-stater, someone like John Kasich, it could be something to watch. Are conservatives willing to knee-cap a rising star who could solve a ton of our problems?
It will be interesting to watch. Rubio made clear on Rush's program that if the final bill doesn't reflect the principles these eight senators outlined, he won't be on board. The ball is now in President Obama's court, where he has to decide whether he wants to elevate a potential rival successor in an effort to accomplish something he's talked about for five years.
Personally, I support Rubio (for now). The principles outlined are something to work from. He brings up some interesting facts, such as 40% of undocumented illegals got here legally and just stayed past their visa expiration. He has the charisma and personal narrative to be able to go into the establishment media and make his case. We can't just win by complaining on Hannity's show every night, we need to reach people who don't normally agree with us. Rubio, who I at times worry may morph into an establishment, has taken a bold step. When the President was a senator, he chose to do nothing. Rubio, perhaps our next president, is clearly attempting to accomplish something.
Below is Rubio's appearance on Rush: