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Rubio's Big Tent Conservatism

6:09 PM, Mar 14, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Should the Republican party abandon social conservatism? Take a turn toward non-interventionism? Moderate on taxes and spending? While a number of pundits and politicians have said 'yes' to one or more of these questions, especially since Mitt Romney's loss in November, Marco Rubio answered with a resounding 'no' during his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

Marco Rubio by Gage Skidmore

During his 15-minute address, Rubio argued that the conservative movement should be a big tent for people who "believe in limited government, constitutional principles, and a free enterprise system," but he also made it clear that he stands with each the three major camps that comprise the modern conservative movement.

Regarding social issues, Rubio told the crowd that "just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.”

"Just because we believe that life—all life, all human life—is worthy of protection at every stage of development does not make you a chauvinist,” Rubio said to loud applause. “In fact, the people who are actually close-minded in American politics are the people that love to preach about the certainty of science in regards to our climate, but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.” 

On foreign policy, Rubio warned of China's efforts to supplant the United States as the world's most powerful country. "You might say, ‘Why does that matter? … Let some other nation take the lead for a while. We’re tired of solving the worlds problem.'" Rubio said. "Believe me, I understand. I do. It’s frustrating."

“But let me explain to you what the Chinese government is,” Rubio continued. "The Chinese government provides their people no access to the Internet. The Chinese government will hold citizens prisoner without any right to recourse. The Chinese government coerces and tortures people until they get confessions. The Chinese government restricts the ability of people to assemble. If you escape China, they actually put pressure on governments to forcibly return you. The Chinese government has coercive birth limitation policies, which means that in some cases they are forcing abortions and sterilizations. The Chinese government uses forced labor.”

“And this is what we do to their own people. We want that to be the leading country in the world?”

On economics, Rubio said, "Our challenge is to create an agenda ... applying our time-tested principles to the challenges of today." That agenda must address the problems of exploding student loan debt and health care costs, Rubio said. But in his short speech, Rubio spent little time outlining specific solutions.

Rubio spoke broadly about the need to provide economic mobility to help working-class Americans and implicitly criticized Mitt Romney's remarks about the "47 percent." 

"There’s this fear that America has changed, that our people have changed, that we’ve reached this point in time where we have too many people who want too much from government and maybe the changes that happened are irreversible and we’ll never be the same again," Rubio said. "I want you to understand that’s not true.” Speaking of one economically struggling family he knows, Rubio said, "They're not freeloaders. They're not liberals." But if they don't see Republicans offering solutions, they might conclude government is the only answer.

Rubio has been in the news for the past couple of months making a push for immigration reform--a stance that, although squarely in line with the only Republicans to win the presidency in the past 40 years, puts him at odds with many conservatives. But during his CPAC speech, Rubio didn't mention immigration. Rather Rubio argued that the three-legged stool of the conservative movement is as sturdy as ever.

"We don't need a new idea," Rubio said. "The idea's America, and it still works."

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