Marco Rubio, little more than four years into his first term in the Senate, is back home in Miami today. The Republican is scheduled to announce for higher office again, this time the presidency of the United States, with the city’s storied Freedom Tower as the backdrop.
It is a place that became synonymous with Cuban refugees—much like the family of Rubio—who sought freedom and a new life in America. Rubio, set to speak sometime after 5:30 p.m., sounds related themes in a video released Friday:
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 10, 2015
Turning His Focus to U.S. Interests
To the extent primary voters question the wisdom of putting forward another first-term U.S. senator for president, Rubio fans counter not only with his rise to the speakership of the Florida legislature but his engagement with key foreign policy questions in the Senate.
“Instead of a foreign policy based on strategy, @BarackObama’s foreign policy is based on politics.”—@marcorubio
Last May, delivering the Republican address that counters President Obama’s weekly message on radio and online, Rubio boiled down his post-9/11 thinking on the subject:
Today, foreign policy is an important part of our domestic policy. And our economic well-being is deeply dependent on our national security. The problem is that President Obama doesn’t seem to understand this. Instead of shaping world events, he has often simply reacted to them. And instead of a foreign policy based on strategy, his foreign policy is based on politics.
Rubio, who turns 44 next month, routinely evaluates Obama’s defense and foreign policy decisions in commentaries for digital outlets such as Fox News and CNN.
In an April 9 piece for National Review Online, he castigates the president for weakness and neglect, paving the way for Cuban dictator Raúl Castro to participate for the first time in the Summit of the Americas—what used to be a gathering of the leaders of the Western Hemisphere’s democratic nations:
So far, the Castro regime has made a mockery of the president’s overtures to normalize relations. At this week’s gathering in Panama, President Obama should be forceful about demanding full respect for the Cuban people’s human rights; otherwise, he risks emboldening the dictator to escalate his repression because he believes the normalization will happen regardless. He should also meet with the Cuban dissidents who will be in Panama.
While decrying political repression in Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere, Rubio identifies brutal Islamist terrorists such as ISIS as posing the biggest danger to America and the rest of the free world. He has supported Obama’s measures to meet the threat while also criticizing him as indecisive and slow to act.
Asked to assess Rubio’s place in the conservative movement, Lee Edwards, a Heritage Foundation scholar and historian of modern conservatism, tells The Daily Signal:
Senator Rubio is charismatic, articulate, principled and from a major electoral state—Florida. He has a special appeal to a key group, Hispanics, which Republicans need for a governing majority. … His interest in and understanding of foreign policy is a plus at a time when America must continue to play a leadership role in the world.
The Tea Party and Rubio’s Hawkishness
Rubio’s personal story—his father and mother fled pre-revolution Cuba in 1956, taking jobs as bartender and maid to get a foothold in the United States—is a triumphant American one of hard work and pluck. The couple settled for good in Miami after paying their dues in Las Vegas hotels when Rubio was an adolescent.
“@marcorubio is an extraordinary spokesperson for the idea that America has to stand for something.”—@MarkMeckler
Russia’s recent re-insertion of its power into this hemisphere, reigniting a relationship with Cuba, provides an opportunity for Rubio to show his stuff, notes Mark Meckler, a pioneer in the Tea Party movement and now head of Citizens for Self-Governance. “That has got to be dead in his sweet spot.”
It’s an open question to what extent some tea party conservatives are willing to forgive Rubio for his lead role in Senate passage in 2013 of legislation they saw as granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. The senator later called the bill a mistake as the House refused to take it up, however, and many openly admire his other domestic policy positions and his dependably hawkish stands on national security.
Mention the words foreign policy, Meckler says in an interview with The Daily Signal, and Rubio is far and away the presidential hopeful seen by tea party conservatives as having invested the time and energy.
“If that becomes the driving primary issue, then it’s a big advantage for Marco Rubio,” Meckler says, adding:
The base is like the rest of the country. We’re all war-weary also. … Tea partiers don’t want to be engaged in interventions all over the world, but we don’t want to let the world go to heck in a handbasket either.
Tea party activists in Florida and elsewhere, however, came to see Rubio as unengaged with them on border security and other issues after his election, Meckler says. The disconnect is contrary to media depictions, he notes, and how Rubio treats the grassroots as a presidential candidate could be “his win-or-lose move” with them.
2016 and Foreign Policy
Even if 2016 looks to be a national security and foreign policy election, others say, domestic concerns such as the economy tend to be uppermost on voters’ minds and a favored candidate rarely prompts second thoughts on foreign policy grounds.
In any case, age and length of time in Congress or a governorship aren’t the decisive factors, argues James Carafano, Heritage’s vice president for foreign and defense policy studies.
“Leadership on a strategic level is not about resumes,” Carafano says in an interview with The Daily Signal, citing President Lincoln during the Civil War as one dramatic example:
Abraham Lincoln was the greatest war president we ever had [but] other than throwing a tomahawk in the Black Hawk War, Lincoln didn’t have a smidgen of the political and military experience of his generals and Cabinet. And yet he was an extraordinary war leader. … It’s not so much about age, it’s not about resumes, it really is about the core and the quality of that strategic leader and the team they surround themselves with.
Carafano says Rubio clearly communicates how a strong national defense prepares America to lead in the world and look after our interests, acting as neither aggressor nor isolationist. His rivals will say much the same, he adds.
“It’s going to be fundamentally about character,” Carafano says. “Is this the kind of commander in chief I’m going to trust my sons and daughters under … who allows me to go to sleep at night and not worry about being murdered in my own bed? That’s what people are going to vote on.”
Carafano argues that Obama’s tenure proves that assembling some good hands can’t compensate for a president’s failures of leadership.
At home, Rubio has championed tax reform, a federal “wage enhancement” for the working poor, downsizing the federal workforce, defending religious freedom and exempting defense spending from mandatory budget cuts.
‘Living Proof of What America Stands For’
From his seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rubio has pushed for ways to stem the spread of ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups, the denial of human rights and the evil of human trafficking around the world. He has advocated greater controls to ensure that foreign aid is used in ways that reflect American “values and interests.”
“It’s going to be fundamentally about character,” @JJCarafano says of voters’ choice for president on national security issues.
In late January, as the Republicans regained control of the Senate, Rubio took a more direct hand in such issues as he assumed the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues.
The first hearing he called was on Obama’s move toward normalizing relations with communist Cuba and what it would mean for the human rights movement there. He invited the testimony of dissidents, including a young woman whose father was killed by the Castro regime.
Rubio vowed that the subcommittee would apply “light and solutions” to problems such as “growing inhospitality for individual freedoms, deteriorating security environments, lagging competitiveness … and the promotion and support of democracy in places where individual freedoms are all but a dream, such as Cuba and Venezuela.”
Rubio is an extraordinary spokesperson for the idea that America has to stand for something, and that America is unique, that America is exceptional. And his family—and obviously very recently—is living proof of what America stands for in the world, the shining light of liberty. He tells the story incredibly well. He is the best, most inspiring public speaker of the bunch.
In recent weeks Rubio has pointed to Cuba’s role in repression in Venezuela, the Obama administration’s lack of transparency on Cuba policy and the threat Russian President Vladimir Putin poses to his neighbors and the NATO alliance.
He clashed with Secretary of State John Kerry on whether the administration’s effort to secure a nuclear deal with Iran had undercut the strategy against ISIS.
‘Who Would We Stand With?’
Two years after joining the Senate, Rubio upped his game by hiring Jamie Fly, who was on the National Security Council and Pentagon teams under President George W. Bush, as counselor for foreign and national security affairs. At the time, Fly was executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a nonprofit founded in 2009 to support U.S. engagement around the world.
In the past year and a half, Rubio spoke three times on the Senate floor on the crisis in Venezuela, where drug kingpins control the government and foment trouble with neighbors. He spoke twice on what he considers the administration’s inadequate strategy to defeat ISIS. And he spoke three times on the need to support Israel amid the conflict in Gaza or nuclear talks with Iran.
“Israel represents everything we want that region of the world to be,” Rubio said in March 20 remarks lamenting the Obama administration’s “historic and tragic mistake” in its brusque treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He concluded:
If America doesn’t stand with Israel, who would we stand with? … What ally around the world can feel safe in their alliance with us?
According to his staff, official travel has taken Rubio to 16 nations, among them Afghanistan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Jordan, Israel, Libya, Haiti, Japan and Colombia.
The regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua reacted to Rubio’s criticisms of their abuses of their own citizens by barring him from traveling to those nations.
Rubio’s major addresses on foreign policy since late 2013 include two at other Washington venues plus one in Seoul, South Korea, and one in London.
“It’s very much a traditional conservative perspective on defense, which is the idea of peace through strength,” says Ana Quintana, a policy analyst for Latin America and the Western Hemisphere at The Heritage Foundation. “The only way you are going to have global peace, or even come close to having a semblance of global peace, is by having a strong United States and a strong U.S. defense posture.”
This article has been substantially modified.