On the campaign trail, Marco Rubio plays all the right notes, like a conductor composing the score to an epic movie about the triumph of good over evil.
Surrounded by perhaps no more than 40 supporters at two stops on a whirlwind trip through Florida’s panhandle Tuesday, Rubio articulated with an energy that most politicians reserve for national TV — if they find it at all — his view of the 2010 election as a turning point for American exceptionalism.
“It really isn’t, at the end of the day, a choice between Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives. This election is nothing less than a referendum on our identity — on who we want to be as a nation and as a people. That’s what we are being asked to choose,” Rubio said at a restaurant in Pensacola.
The message resonated, leaving supporters nodding their heads and applauding.
Rubio reiterated his support for term limits, a balanced-budget amendment, and a requirement that all discretionary spending programs sunset and require reauthorization after 10 years.
He also argued emphatically that America needs to become the best place in the world to do business. “I think we’ve forgotten in this country — at least the political class has — that jobs are not created by politicians. Presidents don’t create jobs. Senators don’t create jobs,” Rubio said. “Jobs are created by everyday people who start a business or grow an existing business, and they’re increasingly unwilling to do that today in this country because the policies coming from Washington make them unsure, make them worried about what’s going to come next.”
He came out strongly against amnesty for illegal immigrants, but continued to hedge on the Arizona immigration bill or a possible Florida counterpart by saying that such measures wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government would do its job. While he tacitly endorsed Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America” to help reform entitlement debt, Rubio steered clear of solidly discussing how to fix politics’ third rail.
“I am a big fan of Social Security and Medicare. Both of my parents are in their eighties, and they are on Social Security and Medicare, and I’ll tell you right now, if those programs didn’t exist for them, their lives would be very different,” Rubio said. “I want to save those programs. I don’t want to see a single penny of benefit cuts for them during their lifetimes.”
That said, the rhetorical flourish that vaulted Rubio from the Florida statehouse to GOP stardom is apparent from the moment he opens his mouth — such as when he hammered home that his campaign isn’t about being the opposition to current leadership, but the alternative.
“When we have been about ideas, we have found great success; and when we have been about anything else, we have found great failure,” Rubio told a crowd gathered at the Okaloosa County Republican Party headquarters. “Two-thousand-ten and beyond gives us the opportunity to once again reclaim the mantle as the movement and the party of ideas — ideas which will allow us to keep this nation exceptional, ideas that will allow us to leave our children their rightful inheritance: the single greatest country in the history of the world.”
The latest polls show Rubio leading the general election by five points if Kendrick Meek is the Democratic nominee, and in a statistical tie with Charlie Crist if Jeff Greene wins the Democratic primary. Rubio said in an interview, though, that he’s not secretly pulling for either.
“I don’t think a lot about the Democratic primary. It’s just not something we can influence,” Rubio told Battle ‘10. “They’re going to nominate someone who is a supporter of the Obama agenda, as is Charlie Crist, and so we’re going to be running against two supporters of the current direction of our government and of Washington. And that’s not going to change no matter who wins the primary.”