The Rubio Scam

Beth Reinhard has a long article up at National Journal today that achieves something of a breakthrough in explaining the allure to Republicans of Sen. Marco Rubio. To make the long story short, she suggests GOPers see Rubio as the mirror image of Barack Obama: a hard-core ideologue who has fooled the MSM with his superficial charms into treating him as someone new and exciting:

No matter that he’s only punched up the old script, swung back and forth on immigration policy, and never shepherded major legislation through Congress. What Rubio brings is the star power, adoring fan base, and command of the national media unmatched these days by anyone in Washington outside of the Oval Office. It’s the same aggressive product placement that has made the 41-year-old a top-tier presidential contender just two years after his swearing-in.

Rubio is the GOP’s Barack Obama, minus the intellectual heft intimated by two Ivy League degrees and a law-school faculty post. A Generation X-er with a name that sounds like change. The author of an American Dream-laced memoir that, audiences are frequently reminded, helped pay off his student loans. A former state lawmaker and a Senate short-timer with a thin binder of achievements but perhaps blessed with the greatest rhetorical gifts in politics today. “[Rubio] is the best communicator since Ronald Reagan,” Republican brass Karl Rove gushed recently on Fox News….

In one recent example of the symbiotic relationship between Rubio and the accommodating media, Politico’s Mike Allen led his well-read tip sheet on Feb. 5 with this item: “FIRST LOOK—SEN. MARCO RUBIO releases his Spotify track list, ‘What I’m Listening To.’ ” In an interview with BuzzFeed that night in front of a live audience, Rubio spent more time detailing his catalog from the digital-music service (reflecting a diverse taste for rap, indie rock, pop, and Christian rock) than defending his antiscience stance on climate change. His press secretary posted a lighthearted National Journal send-up titled “Five Ways Marco Rubio Is Not Your Grandfather’s Republican” on Twitter as a must-read for “anyone writing bio/profile pieces of @MarcoRubio.”

What’s behind all the excitement? The ideology of the man Rubio recently called his best friend on earth, other than his wife: Jim DeMint.

He received a 100 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, a 97 percent rating from the Club for Growth, and a 96 percent rating from Heritage Action for America, an arm of the Heritage Foundation. Good luck to any future rival who seeks to outflank him on the right. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act, a United Nations treaty to protect the disabled, and the fiscal-cliff deal that raised taxes on families earning more than $450,000. He also opposed federal aid to superstorm Sandy victims and to states damaged by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “What sets him apart from other people who just call themselves conservatives is that he’s willing to take the tougher votes,” said AFP President Tim Phillips.

In the homestretch before the November election, Rubio decried gay marriage in automated calls to voters in battleground states. He voted to end funding to Planned Parenthood, called the recent anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision “tragic,” and cosponsored a bill to allow employers to opt out of covering birth control in their health insurance plans.

Some “reformer” and “rebrander,” eh?

It’s important to understand, then, that the absence of anything remotely resembling a new idea in Rubio’s Republican Response to the SOTU Address was for his conservative fans a feature, not a bug. So long as MSM types continue to ignore the DeMintian substance of his political identity and drool over his “style” and “charisma” and “biography,” it’s perfect for the Right. And since that’s what they think the same MSM did for Obama in 2008, they have zero reason to figure it won’t work just as well for Rubio.

Reinhard notes a few problems Rubio would have to overcome on the road to a 2016 presidential nomination, including the possibility that he will be pre-empted by his pre-DeMint mentor, Jeb Bush, and the personal financial irregularities that could threaten his base among Tea Folk who often view credit ratings as divinely ordained measurements of moral worth.

But he could face a much more immediate problem if his media fans stopped fawning over him and took a look at what he actually stands for. That wouldn’t simply lower the temperature of the hype surrounding him: it might also discourage movement conservatives who see him as the vehicle for a successful scam.

So this is one case where blaming the media “messengers” is not only fair but essential.

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.