Get serious, Sen. Rubio

Marco Rubio really wants to be taken seriously.

And serious people issue serious-sounding policy manifestos laying out for the president what he would be doing, if of course, he were as serious as the issuer of the manifesto. And so when the junior senator from Florida issued his “8 Steps Obama Must Take to Punish Russia,” it was, well, serious business.

Rubio’s prescriptions might not carry with them the great weight of gravitas. He has little foreign-policy experience, having spent the bulk of his political career as an acolyte of former Gov. Jeb Bush, a state legislator from West Miami and then speaker of Florida’s House, a two-year rotating position decided well in advance by the party.

Rubio rose through the Republican ranks mainly by virtue of his packaging – fueled by his youthful looks (comb-over notwithstanding), Cuban heritage (parents not really being exiles aside) and his potential to capture the imaginations of Latino voters, and the white suburban Republicans who would like their party to appeal to more of them. His appeal was initially grounded in his theoretical ability, through sheer magnetism, to bring his party along on a single issue: immigration.

But having stepped into that briar patch, Rubio emerged very much scathed.

Whereas he was routinely talked about as a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, Rubio now barely rates in the primary polls.

A Huffington Post Pollster average of 41 tracking polls places Rubio sixth among the Republican field, behind Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie (even with all the damage inflicted on him by Bridgegate) and Mike Huckabee.

In December 2012, Rubio led the field, averaging 22 percent of the vote in the same field – the highest single average of any candidate since. His trendline has been steeply downward ever since his embrace of comprehensive immigration reform, and Rubio’s attempts to distinguish himself on other issues has been largely ineffectual.

Which brings us back to his Very Serious Policy Pronouncement on Russia, published by Politico on March 1.

In it, Rubio calls on the president to “speak unequivocally” and call Russia’s Crimea grab an “invasion.” He adds that “the president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves.”

Beyond those very fortitudinous vagueries, Rubio offers little that hasn’t been thought of – “rallying our allies,” potentially boycotting the G-8 summit in June, adding more Russian officials to the travel ban list (something the administration has since done), pushing for Georgia to be admitted to NATO (a favorite cause of Sen. John McCain) and floating a condemnatory U.N. resolution that Rubio acknowledges Russia, and probably China, would certainly veto, are all well-worn ideas very much in the public square. A Russian veto, by the way, “would make clear to the world the hypocrisy of these governments, since they say they oppose foreign intervention into the affairs of sovereign countries—unless of course they are the ones intervening,” Rubio writes.

Well, that solves it!

It’s not that Rubio’s ideas are beyond the pale – it’s that they have become scattershot. The onetime Republican phenom has flailed in his attempts to reinvent himself as someone other than the guy who betrayed the base on immigration.

He backed the notion of shutting down the government to “defund Obamacare.”

He’s sought federal funds for anti-government protesters in Venezuela.

And this week he signaled he’s vote against a bill to provide economic aid to Ukraine – the very country being dominated by Russia, whom Rubio said President Obama must “rally our allies” to brush back – because the proposed aid package includes funding for the International Monetary Fund, without IMF reforms (some Republicans also objected to the bill unless it included provisions preventing the government from curbing politically charged 501c4 groups like Americans for Prosperity.)

Rubio’s objection to the Ukraine funding bill, coming on the heels of his Very Serious Pronouncements on Russia, were almost immediately brushed aside by foreign policy experts … as unserious.

Such is the lot of the once high-flying Mr. Rubio these days.

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