It might look like tea party hero Marco Rubio waded into enemy territory with stops in San Francisco and Beverly Hills this week. But rubbing shoulders with a different crowd is the point of the freshman senator’s three-day swing through the Golden State.
The Florida Republican is out to prove he can appeal beyond the activist base, introducing himself to the state’s political and corporate elite, raising cash for his party from some of George W. Bush’s top donors and paying homage to one of Republicans’ most venerable icons — Ronald Reagan.
It’s the second act of a well-orchestrated national rollout that began this spring for Rubio, who insists he has no immediate national ambitions. But if the tea party favorite makes a strong debut and can win over establishment Republicans outside his home state, he could emerge an irresistible choice for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket in 2012.
At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf writes:
Watching Sen. Marco Rubio speak at the Reagan Library was, for me, a bit like watching Kobe Bryant early in his career. Until the Lakers drafted Kobe, basketball players always seemed much older than me. Suddenly, one of them wasn't. Everyone talked about Kobe's promise (through the flashes of brilliance and the air balls). Would he be the next Magic Johnson? The next Michael Jordan?
In political circles, Rubio is considered a rising star. Born in 1971, he's 9 years my elder but strikingly youthful in a profession dominated by old men. Just looking at him, one can't shake the impression that he's offering a preview of the Republican Party's next generation of politicians.
As he puts it, "I grew up in Ronald Reagan's America."
But he also notes the absence of policy alternatives in the speech:
Every conservative can tell a story about how America was a freer, more self-reliant place until big government came along, crowding out the family, the church, and private charity. They talk as if we need to dismantle the whole system of social welfare, to re-imagine the safety net... but now that folks are reliant on government, and family ties are less strong, what do they suggest? I know what Milton Friedman wanted to do. I know what George W. Bush wanted to do (a prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, faith based initiatives, privatized Social Security).
What does Rubio want to do? Nothing very specific, insofar as I can tell. He's young, so there's time yet for him to do better. But evaluating him based on this speech, I don't see what all the fuss is about.