Does Marco Rubio Have a Place in the 2016 Field?

by James Pethokoukis

Jim Geraghty points out this ABC News story that strongly suggests Marco Rubio is set to join the 2016 GOP presidential race. Over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw finds this development confusing, unable to determine “what ‘role’ (for lack of a better word) Rubio sees for himself in this emerging field. . . . What vacuum in the conservative political spectrum does Rubio fill today?​

Good question. What slot does Rubio fill? For instance: Rand Paul would be the libertarian, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker the outsiders, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie the establishment guys. But those are the wrong sorts of classifications, I think. My first cut at the field would be to divide up the candidates between (a) those who are offering conservative solutions to the unique challenges facing 21st century America and (b) those who are just slathering fresh messaging on same-old, same-old policy agendas better suited to the 1980s and 1990s.

Of course, you’re likely to hear all the candidates talk about helping the struggling middle class and improving upward mobility. Those are the buzz words and phrases both parties are latching onto right now. What did Bush name his Super PAC? Right to Rise. But one group of 2016ers will surely respond by pulling musty policy papers off the shelf. You saw this tendency at work in Karl Rove’s Wall Street Journal op-ed this week where he responded to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, Rove: “Most important, Republicans should fill the policy vacuum left by Mr. Obama’s dead-on-arrival package with a robust, pro-growth reform agenda that focuses on the middle class—one that simplifies the tax code, rolls back onerous regulations, further expands domestic energy production, restrains spending, controls the debt, increases trade and modernizes entitlements.”

In other words, everything voters heard in 2012, just retooled and rebranded as middle-class friendly and focused. Not that any of those ideas are bad ones, but is that all there is?

So the Rubio role is quite obvious. He’s the guy offering fresh, relevant, conservative reforms. In his new book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, Rubio outlines an economic plan that takes timeless conservative principles — faith, family, free enterprise – but adapts their policy manifestations to the current challenges confronting middle- and working-class America. For instance: As part of broader tax reform that would reduce anti-investment business taxes, Rubio would also provide immediate tax relief to families by expanding the federal Child Tax Credit. This reflects the economic reality that cranking up GDP growth, while a necessity, may no longer be sufficient to lift all boats — at least not right away. Macroeconomic trends such as globalization and automation are restructuring the American economy so that income gains are flowing heavily to those at the top. The Rubio plan, jointly developed with Sen. Mike Lee, also addresses the fundamental financial unfairness that parents — unlike childless adults – pay the taxes that support Medicare and Social Security while also investing in future taxpayers, their kids. There’s a lot more in the book, everything from innovative higher education reform to pro-work support for low-income families to anti-cronyist deregulation.

So, yeah, there is a logical slot for Rubio. He would be the Man With the (21st century, middle-class, conservative) Plan. And hopefully not the only candidate with one. But Rubio is first from the gate.

The Corner

The one and only.