Marco Rubio is a kind of Republican both new and old. A Cuban-American first elected to serve in the Florida House of Representatives in 2000, at the age of 29, he became Speaker at age 35. Throughout his career, he has promoted a conservative philosophy of limited government. He counts former Gov. Jeb Bush as one of his most important political mentors.
Rubio, the father of four children, believes that the Republican party is a failing institution. Its leaders are pulling it away from representing a genuine center-right voice of opposition to Democrats’ plans for an ever-expanding role for government.
Republicans in Washington were thrilled last week to learn that moderate Florida Republican governor Charlie Crist is running to replace retiring Republican senator Mel Martinez. They believe the popular governor is a lock to keep the seat in GOP hands.
But Rubio is running as a conservative underdog against Crist in the primary. He says it is not because there is no room for moderates in the party, but rather because Crist, in Florida, has pulled the party in the wrong direction at a time when Americans need a clear alternative to President Obama’s agenda.
Rubio sat down with National Review Online earlier this week to discuss his candidacy and the problems the Republican party is facing.
Charlie Crist is a popular guy in Florida. He’s also popular among Republicans. Are you Don Quixote for taking him on?
MARCO RUBIO: Elections are about choices and about giving people clear alternatives. I have strong and deeply held convictions about what the United States should be about. I have strong beliefs about what the role of the Republican party should be in the political debate in America. I don’t think that’s being reflected by our leadership at the national level. I don’t believe it’s being reflected by our leadership at the state level, in some respects. And, as a result, I want to run for the U.S. Senate, because I don’t think that the voice our party should be is being offered by the Republican party at this moment.
FREDDOSO: How are they failing?
RUBIO: Two things. There’s one group of Republicans who feel our slogan should be, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” That, in essence, it’s too hard to take on this expansion of government, this overreliance on government to grow our economy and create jobs. And so what we should do is just be more like the Democrats. Another group of Republicans believes that we should basically be the party of opposition without any ideas in return — that all we have to offer is ideology, but without any new ideas behind the ideology.
I think both sides of that debate are wrong. We are a party that should have a very clear vision about government’s role in our economy and government’s role in our country, and we should back that up with specific solutions for the future. That’s what I’ve built my career on, and that’s what our candidacy should be about.
FREDDOSO: Give me an example of that, showing a contrast between yourself and Governor Crist.
RUBIO: Quite frankly, you could say it’s a contrast between myself and the direction of the national Republican movement at this moment in our history, by and large, especially here in Washington, D.C. One example is term limits — we should be the party of term limits. We should be the party that says it’s not natural for any human being to serve more than half his adult life in the U.S. Congress.
We should be the party of the balanced-budget amendment — of the notion that we should not spend money we do not have. We should admit once and for all that Republicans are just as guilty as Democrats . . . in spending money we don’t have.
We should be the party of tax reform. We’re constantly talking about tax cuts and their importance, but tax reform is even better. Change our system of taxation, whether it’s a Fair Tax or a Flat Tax. Boldly propose changes to our tax system so that once again we have a country where we’re not encouraging companies to shift jobs overseas — where the tax implications of creating jobs in America are not negative, the tax implications of building things in America aren’t negative.