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Demolition Derby in Florida

Can Marco Rubio prevail?

Aug 9, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 44 • By FRED BARNES
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America’s greatness “didn’t happen automatically, didn’t happen accidentally, and won’t continue automatically,” he says. Voters must choose the future they want. Here’s how Rubio described the choice to me:

There are those who believe the country is headed in the right direction, who believe that jobs are created by the president and the U.S. Senate and the Congress and government, and who believe the world is a safer place if America retreats from it and weakens itself. People who believe those things should not vote for me. There are two other candidates running they can support.

If, on the other hand, you believe it’s the private sector and only private sector growth that will create the kind of revenue that we need in our country and the positive economic influence that we need, if you believe the government should not spend more money than it takes in, and if you believe the world is a safer place when America is the strongest country in the world, I’m the only candidate with ideas to help accomplish that. And that’s what the choice is going to be in November.

That’s a pretty stark choice. But “people are looking for voices that offer them serious choices, policy choices,” Rubio insists.

I think what they’re tired of is a political process that’s full of people who will say or do anything to get elected, people who treat elections like a high-stakes beauty pageant where all you have to do is shake a few hands and memorize a few lines that test well.

The key point in Rubio’s speech, apart from his defense of American exceptionalism, is economic growth. “You can’t build your national defenses if your economy is not generating revenue that will pay for it, and you can’t pay down your debt,” he says. 

I think the way you do it is you grow your economy, you find more people jobs, you create more entrepreneurs. You create new industries that multiply the number of jobs-created. .  .  . What we are getting out of Washington today and all levels of government is anti-job creation.

His speech emphasizes the big picture, but Rubio also has a wonkish underside. Last week, he put out a dozen “simple ways to cut spending,” starting with cuts of 10 percent in the budgets of the White House and Congress. Earlier, he announced 12 ways to “grow our economy” and 11 to “help the Gulf Coast economy to recover.” His economic ideas include permanently extending the Bush tax cuts and ending “job-destroying double taxation of capital gains, dividends, or death.”

In 2005, Rubio circulated books with blank pages, asking people to write down their “innovative ideas for Florida’s future.” It was a stunt that worked. The next year, he published a book with the 100 best ideas. “We passed all 100 of them in the House [and] 57 of them became law or policy in the state of Florida,” he says. The ideas “are all over the place.” 

As a candidate, Rubio is rigidly disciplined. He refuses to discuss campaign tactics and strategy. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed him last month about extremism in the Tea Party movement, Rubio stressed his free market message. Tea Party people “want to see policies implemented at the highest levels of government that will keep us exceptional,” he said.

Another example:

Blitzer: If you were elected, would you be part of the Tea Party caucus in the United States Senate, let’s say with Rand Paul, he’s a Republican candidate in Kentucky, or Sharron Angle, a Republican candidate in Nevada? Would you be part of a caucus like that?

Rubio: Well, I don’t know what the need for that would be obviously. .  .  . I’m more interested in being a part of a caucus that would lower taxes in America and create an environment where jobs are going to be created in the private sector, creating an environment where the private sector can grow and create prosperity.

When I interviewed Rubio, he answered nearly every question with snatches from his speech, no matter what I asked. Will a significant bloc of Democrats vote for Crist, as polls currently indicate? “I don’t really break the electorate down that way,” Rubio said. Then he invoked his idea of an electorate that chooses between candidates who like the country’s direction and those who don’t.

Who might the Obama White House throw its weight behind in the general election, Crist or the Democratic nominee? When his four kids are grown, “they’re not going to be talking about who the White House supported,” he said. They’re going to be talking about whether the country chose the right direction in 2010.

Rather than challenge Crist in the Republican primary, Rubio was urged to run for state attorney general. What was his wife’s advice? 

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