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Budget in the Balance

The GOP gambles on entitlement reform.

Apr 11, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 29 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Looking back, the senator says it’s clear that those issues didn’t hurt him. “The American people aren’t little kids. I think if you go to them and explain it in the right way—the American people almost always get it right at the end of the day in terms of how they look at issues,” he says. “I didn’t campaign on this in the Virgin Islands. I campaigned on this in Florida—in the state that perhaps leads the country in a per capita level of retirees. People understand this.”

Rubio won 49 percent of the vote in a three-way race despite his willingness to propose specific entitlement reforms—or perhaps because of it. Rubio campaign strategist Todd -Harris agrees. “Charlie Crist attacked us shamelessly on Social Security with millions in negative ads, but even after all that, our tracking showed that voters trusted Marco to protect Social Security more than Crist.” 

“In this environment voters are looking for authenticity and truth tellers,” Harris continues. “Straight talk about Social Security can actually work like a candidate character reference. Voters know if you are willing to tell them the hard truth about entitlements, they can probably believe you on everything else too, because no one lies about the easy stuff.”

Harris isn’t saying that every Republican should run on entitlement reform; he appreciates the risk. Rubio too says he understands the reluctance of some of his colleagues to go all-in on entitlement reform. But given the potential political upside of dealing with entitlements—and the certain economic ruin of failing to do so—Rubio believes the time to act is now. 

“What is politics about at the end of the day? Is this a sport or is this a job? If this is a sport, then all we should care about is winning the election. But this is a job. Our job is to solve problems.” 

He continues: “There’s no guarantees in any of this. All I can tell you is that if things continue the way they are, six years from now when I’m up for reelection and others in my class are up for reelection, I think we’re all going to be gone if we don’t begin to solve these problems, because the issue America will face by then will be unimaginable.”

Indeed.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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