Marco Rubio had his big moment Monday and he seized it. Hard and effectively.
He delivered a polished, powerful speech at Miami’s Freedom Tower that struck a theme that will be the cornerstone of his campaign: generational change to return America to past greatness.
“Now the time has come,” Rubio said, “for our generation to lead the way toward a new American century.” Don’t know about an entire century, but if you want another “Morning in America,” Rubio may be your man.
There is something Reaganesque about Rubio — he’s cheery, attractive, good natured, comfortable in front of a crowd or a camera and believes that God has touched America and made it exceptional. Like Reagan, he’s also optimistic about the future, despite the legion of societal problems he enumerates, most of them the doing of left-leaning Democrats.
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The Obama administration and, by implication, Hillary Clinton have “appeased our enemies, betrayed our friends and allowed defense spending to dwindle.” Rubio’s foreign policy stand is hawkish, muscular and aggressive. If he were to draw a red line in the sand, woe to the foe who crossed it. Take note, Mr. Assad.
While Rubio is the antithesis of Barack Obama politically, they share some common traits.
Both are eloquent, ambitious, served in state legislatures and rose quickly in national prominence as first-term senators. Obama was 47 when he was elected president; Rubio would be 45.
He drew some blunt age distinctions with his presidential rivals in the Freedom Tower speech. He didn’t mention by name 62-year-old Jeb Bush, his political mentor and friend, but said America doesn’t need to recycle political dynasties from the past. He was positively snarky about Hillary, 67, calling her so “yesterday.” The crowd loved it.
But a good part of Rubio’s core constituents won’t love a few of the positions he outlined Monday. For example, he promised to repeal Obamacare, but 400,000 people in Miami-Dade (most of them in Republican-registered Hialeah) have signed up for health insurance through the ACA and 1.6 million people throughout the state. It’s doubtful they want to lose it.
Rubio used the announcement speech to confirm his conservative bona fides: Pro-life, pro-school choice, pro-Israel, against the nuclear deal with Iran and against Obama’s Cuba initiative. Then there are those requisite family values: “The family, not the government is the most important institution.” Right, but have you ever heard anyone say it’s not?
Perhaps the most striking thing about Rubio’s speech was its lack of partisan politics.
Not once did he say the words “Republican” or “Democrat.” Nor was there much discussion of public policy. But there was a surfeit about core conservative principles. American ones, which have been tarnished and must be restored. Rubio promises to get them gleaming again.
For years Rubio has spoken of his parents and their American journey, and he did so movingly on Monday. Born poor in Cuba, they immigrated to the United States in 1956. His mother became a hotel maid and K-Mart cashier, his father a bartender. “But they were a success,” Rubio said, “they achieved the American dream. They owned their home and raised four children whose lives were better than theirs had been.” He pledged to help the younger generation achieve a similar America dream.
Rubio could have easily have been reelected to the Senate next year. That would have been the easier, more conventional path.
He has instead chosen a harder one by running for president. With $10 million pledged by Norman Braman, who attended Monday’s speech, and millions more from other deep-pocketed donors, Rubio will have enough money to mount a serious campaign.
He’s already a serious contender, a Cuban American who speaks both English and Spanish like it’s his first tongue. He is also graced with a name that is so ethnically unidentifiable that xenophobic Tea Partiers can embrace him. Outside the Freedom Tower after the speech one reporter from Fusion was playing that old kid’s game where one shouts “Marco” and the others shout “Polo.”
There’s really only one fundamental question about Rubio that must now be answered: At 43, is he experienced enough to be president? Is he ready? He’ll show he is or he isn’t in the coming months. That’s why they hold primary elections.