The New Boss

David Frum mocks the phenomenon, posting a Time Magazine cover depicting Sen. Marco Rubio as “the Republican Savior” and noting sardonically: “Well That Was Easy.” WaPo’s Chris Cillizza takes it very seriously with a piece on Rubio as the “new leader of the Republican Party,” based in part on the Floridian’s selection to deliver the GOP response to the State of the Union Address. But he also enthuses about Rubio’s youth, non-terrifying rhetoric, and communications skills. And then, of course, there is the senator’s ethnicity, and his front-and-center role in the legislative effort (by no means assured of success) to rid the GOP of its current nativist image and bury the immigration issue, at least for a while.

But before we all go into a national swoon over Rubio as the vehicle for a Republican revival from the extremist trap it has laid for itself since 2008, it might be good to look at his thinking on issues other than immigration. How’s about the tangle of economic and fiscal issues at the center of Washington’s gridlock?

Glad you asked. Rubio has long been (and so far as I know, still is) an enthusiastic advocate for the “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal that would place a fixed limitation of federal spending directly into the U.S. Constitution, reflecting the Tea Party belief that we need to roll back the entire New Deal and Great Society legacy in order to get back to the hardy individualist society of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In a Politico op-ed that he co-authored less than a year ago with his mentor, Jim DeMint, along with the noted “moderate” Senate colleagues Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson, Rubio and his friends make the case for Cut, Cap and Balance, beginning with these remarkable words:

The most important policy imperative in the world today is for the United States to balance its budget.

In the whole world!

But turns out “balancing” isn’t enough: it must be accomplished purely on the domestic spending side, beginning with those profligate entitlements:

Raising taxes on high earners has only accelerated and exacerbated fiscal problems everywhere from Sacramento to Athens. And everyone outside Washington knows that the true inequality crisis in America today is not between rich and poor, but between government and everyone else.

A balanced budget will encourage Congress to reorganize the federal government around principles of wealth creation rather than wealth redistribution, and force long-overdue reforms to long-outmoded policies.

Anybody who doesn’t know how to translate that code really hasn’t been paying attention.

So if Rubio has been on the crazy fringe of his party on fiscal policy, why exactly are we supposed to believe he’s somehow the voice and face of a middle-class-friendly GOP? He was front-and-center late last summer in defending the Republican platform’s support for a flat ban on abortions even in cases of rape and incest. So why is he “saner” than Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock?

I’ll tell you why: immigration is the only issue on which Republicans as a whole are actually considering a “shift” in their policies (though not so much their ideology). Rubio is the front-man for that effort, and the fact that on virtually everything else he is to the right of Jimmy Dean Sausage makes him the ideal “leader.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.