I’ve long called Marco Rubio “stealth establishment.” He’s a young, first-term senator who beat a very moderate former governor in a primary during the 2010 tea party wave. He looks the part of an insurgent, and quite honestly was given the circumstances that year.
Now, in the presidential race, Rubio is defying convention again by refusing to “wait his turn,” taking on his one-time mentor Jeb Bush without official permission. He uses the fact that he doesn’t cower in the face of his senior rivals as part of a narrative that he’s locked in a battle with the old guard.
And the attack ads Jeb Bush’s Super PAC is running against him helps to bolster that image.
But none of this changes the fact that his policies are very much in line with the likes of Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, whom he definitively beat out in Iowa. In fact, Bush’s former donors are increasingly lining up behind Rubio, because they seem to recognize he’s now their best shot at keeping the status quo in tact during the apparent year of the outsiders.
New look, same policies.
Stealth establishment, indeed.
Economically, Rubio is warm to cronyism, especially when it relates to cashing checks from big donors. Last year, I wrote about his push to ban online gambling at the behest of his casino magnate donor Sheldon Adelson, along with his Floridian embrace of sugar subsidies. And the ethanol mandate much heralded in Iowa? He claims he’d be open to phasing it out. But ask him again in seven years.
On foreign policy, you’d be hard pressed to find a Republican more committed to the ideological neoconservatism that defined George W. Bush’s presidency – and proved so unpopular that it laid the groundwork for Barack Obama’s rise.
Rubio has consistently called for more U.S. intervention in places like Iraq, Libya, and Syria. And he speaks in apocalyptic terms of “civilizational conflicts” in which the U.S. military must intervene at all costs – even if there’s no discernible American interest at stake.
On civil liberties, count Rubio as a committed member of the Feinstein-McCain bipartisan coalition aligned against the 4th amendment. And he holds similarly retrograde positions on criminal justice reform, believing states should be prosecuted for legalizing marijuana, and taking little interest in ongoing bipartisan efforts to fix a bloated and unfair system.
Though I have written that at this point, I believe Marco Rubio will ultimately win the Republican nomination, I agree with Dan McCarthy’s analysis at The American Conservative: “Should all proceed according to plan, the fresh-faced establishment Republican champion then goes to face the haggard old champion of the Democratic establishment, Hillary Clinton, in November.”
“Whoever wins, the cause of peace and limited government loses,” McCarthy adds.
How much would the two establishment candidates differ? The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf observed recently, “If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, it will be interesting to see… how Rubio would attack a woman who shares so many of his foreign-policy instincts.”
Rubio is broadly committed to activist government as a rule. Like most Republicans, he’d be better on economic issues than virtually any Democrat, despite some looming corporatist tendencies. But his willingness to recklessly add to our $19 trillion debt in pursuit of “spreading democracy” shows that he and Hillary Clinton are two sides of the same coin. Rubio’s conservative critics have said he wants to boost spending significantly, to the tune of $1 trillion or more. PolitiFact backs up those claims.
Rubio can continue to reject that he’s the old guard’s savior. Politically, who can blame him?
But even he probably knows this really isn’t true.
Rubio is the perfect stealth establishment candidate to counter the rise of Trump and Cruz. I expect many of his congressional colleagues to continue coalescing around him as Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) did this week – bringing the number of endorsements he’s received from his upper chamber colleagues to five.
Most conservatives would choose Rubio over Clinton if they become the two major party options. But no one who’s paying attention should be surprised when Marco Rubio’s promise of a “New American Century” quickly proves to be a throwback to the big government Republicanism of a decade ago.