Politics & Policy

Marco Rubio Is Plenty Conservative

(Sean Rayford/Getty)

It is now axiomatic that Marco Rubio is the “establishment” favorite in the 2016 Republican primaries, due for a collision with a conservative alternative such as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson.

But if Rubio really represents the new GOP “establishment,” then the fight is over and the conservatives won. Despite infuriating many grassroots conservatives by pushing the failed Gang of Eight immigration-reform bill and advocating a path to legalization, Rubio has an indisputably conservative record as a senator.

This is a man who has a lifetime ACU rating of 98 out of 100. A man who has a perfect rating from the NRA in the U.S. Senate. A man who earned scores of 100 in 2014, 100 in 2013, 71 in 2012, and 100 in 2011 from the Family Research Council. A “Taxpayer Super Hero” with a lifetime rating of 95 from Citizens Against Government Waste. A man Club for Growth president David McIntosh called “a complete pro-growth, free-market, limited-government conservative.”

Across the board, Rubio’s stances, policy proposals, and rhetoric fall squarely within the bounds of traditional conservatism.

Rubio’s the guy who earned a 100 from National Right to Life in two straight cycles, and a zero rating from NARAL. He supports an abortion ban after 20 weeks, opposes exceptions for rape and incest (although he’s voted for legislation that includes those exceptions), and opposes embryonic stem-cell research. In the first Republican debate he declared, “Future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave them a chance to live.”

Rubio opposes gay marriage and has said that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech. Today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.” He recorded robo-calls for the National Organization for Marriage.

Since 2010, Rubio has proposed freezing government spending for everything but defense and veterans’ care at 2008 levels. He supports a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and the line-item veto. He voted against funding for the Export-Import Bank, even though Florida receives the second-largest amount of money from the bank.

His initial tax-reform plan, co-authored with Utah senator Mike Lee, cuts the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and would reduce the current seven brackets to two: a 15 percent rate for individuals and a 35 percent rate for families. (Rubio later adjusted it to create a 25 percent tax bracket for couples making between $150,000 and $300,000.) It creates a new $2,500-per-child tax credit. Conservatives disagree about the best way to simplify the tax code and reduce the tax burden on Americans, but it’s hard to dispute that changes such as these would move the system in the right direction.

Across the board, Rubio’s stances, policy proposals, and rhetoric fall squarely within the bounds of traditional conservatism.

He wants to create a tax credit for companies that donate to nonprofits that give K–12 tuition scholarships to poor students. In 2013, he declared that Common Core “is increasingly being used by the Obama Administration to turn the Department of Education into what is effectively a national school board.” He thinks children should be taught both theistic creation and evolution.

On Obamacare, Rubio was the one who made the risk-corridor insurer bailout an issue, starting in 2013, which led to Congress’s enacting limits on how much taxpayer money insurers could be given to cover losses related to the newly insured. Insurance companies that spent small fortunes lobbying for the bill and fighting its opponents are now griping that they’re getting a bad deal and the law may eventually become unworkable for them. If Obamacare is eventually replaced, Rubio will have played a big role in making it happen.

He’s got the guts for entitlement reform, too. He wants to raise the retirement age for those under 55, change the benefit calculation for wealthy seniors who do not rely on Social Security, and eliminate the Social Security payroll tax after retirement age to encourage older Americans to stay in the workforce. He wants to open federal workers’ Thrift Savings Program to all Americans.

Rubio opposes raising the minimum wage, contending it would only encourage employers to search for new technological solutions to replace American workers; he contends the legislative efforts to fight climate change are economically self-destructive and expresses skepticism that human behavior is driving climate change. In the Florida senate, he won bipartisan support for a law restricting the state’s authority to seize private property after the Kelo v. New London decision.

#share#While conservatives disagree on how much military interventionism is needed in a dangerous world, Rubio’s foreign-policy stances are of a piece with the party’s recent history. In May, Rush Limbaugh said Rubio “shows up on the Council on Foreign Relations and literally ran rings around everybody, including Jeb Bush.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board called him “one of his party’s most visible and best-informed critics of President Obama’s foreign policy in Ukraine, Iran, and a Middle East beset by Islamic State.” He’s called for a $1 trillion expansion of the defense budget.

On that passion-stirring issue of immigration, right-wing opposition to the Gang of Eight bill was well-founded. Rubio deserves every bit of grief he’s getting for ruling out a path to citizenship in 2010, and then supporting a bill that would have created such a path in 2013. But it’s rewriting history to call Rubio a squish on border security or an advocate for an “open border,” as Rand Paul has charged.

Why do so many people see Rubio as some sort of squishy moderate if his voting record and proposals are so thoroughly conservative?

Representative Mo Brooks (R., Ala.) contends Rubio “led the effort to open the floodgates.” But the Florida senator has always agreed with calls for greater border security. While the Gang of Eight bill was still making its way through Congress, Rubio argued that it should be amended to include specific enforcement procedures preventing another influx of illegal immigrants. He helped negotiate an adopted amendment that would have roughly doubled the border-patrol force to 40,000 agents while completing 700 miles of fence on the nation’s southern border.

The Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee rejected numerous amendments that would have improved the bill and assured skeptics that the border-security provisions were more than just window-dressing. Rubio applauded the amendments that passed, which aimed to make border-fencing requirements more specific, allow DHS to more vigorously track, pursue, and remove persons who overstay their visas, and require updates on the implementation of E-Verify. Conservatives can argue whether the enforcement provisions were enough, but that doesn’t make Rubio an open-borders advocate.

Why do so many people see Rubio as some sort of squishy moderate if his voting record and proposals are so thoroughly conservative?

#related#Peter Beinart argues that the Florida senator uses a warm, empathetic tone to promote conservative policies: “Rubio has mastered the same technique Barack Obama used so effectively when he was seeking the presidency,” Beinart writes. “When faced with a controversial issue, he doffs his cap to the other side, pleads for civility and respect, insists that it’s a hard call — and then comes out exactly where you’d expect him to come out.”

Judging from the number of people calling Rubio a RINO, squish, establishment, etc., perhaps Rubio is a victim of his own golden tongue. If the perception that Rubio is too moderate costs him the GOP nomination, it will reveal a great deal about what defines a conservative in 2016. Sadly, the label no longer has much to do with actual policy positions, ideas, or governing philosophies.

If Rubio is no longer conservative, then conservatism is now primarily a matter of aesthetics.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent of National Review.


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