There’s no doubt that one has to have giant stones to think they’re smart enough and charismatic enough to run the free world. Marco Rubio falls into that category.
“I have heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn, ” Rubio toward the end of his 18-minute-plus speech at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on Monday night. “But I cannot. Because I believe our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake, and I can make a difference as president.”
Undoubtedly the biggest moment in his political career, Rubio seized the moment to try sell a public that he’s not too green a candidate to inherit the mantle of a credible commander in chief.
Team Rubio is selling his youth as a plus, and definitely want to use it as weapon in a one-on-one comparison with Hillary Clinton, who polls say polls would be the next president if the election were held Tuesday.
“This election is not just about what laws we will pass. It is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be,” he said, segueing into his critique of the former first lady and Secretary of State.
“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. But yesterday is over, and we are never going back. We Americans are proud of our history, but our country has always been about the future. Before us now is the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America.”
He then said, “We can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past. We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them.”
Although nobody in Miami or in Florida politics wants to imagine it, those lines could also batter the still undeclared Jeb Bush if the race comes down to the two Miami-area neighbors.
There has always been a bit of Barack Obama in Rubio, though no one associated with the Rubio camp would dare admit it. Obama, too, broke the mold in terms of what is considered “too soon” to run for office. It was considered Clinton’s “turn” in ’08, but that didn’t matter, compared with Obama’s magnetic appeal.
It’s considered her turn again now, just as some many Republicans, especially in Florida, think it’s Jeb Bush’s turn. Rubio said that in our fast-paced culture, we don’t need to wait so long to choose the best candidate. It’s the same calculus that Ted Cruz is trying. For all of Rubio’s “inexperience,” he has been in the Senate two years longer than the Texas firebrand.
Of course, it’s not supposed to be about him, but about us.
So near his speech’s end, Rubio talked about the American people he says have been beaten down and no longer see the American Dream possible in their future or their children’s future. “Whether or not we remain a special country will depend on whether that journey is still possible for those trying to make it now: The single mother who works long hours for little pay so her children don’t have to struggle the way she has … The student who takes two buses before dawn to attend a better school halfway across town … The workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices … and the bartenders who tonight are standing in the back of a room somewhere,” he said.
“If their American Dreams become impossible, we will have become just another country,” he said. “But if they succeed, the 21st century will be another American Century. This will be the message of my campaign and the purpose of my presidency.”
Although the audience was mostly hardcore Rubio supporters who arrived hours in advance to get inside the Freedom Tower, some people told Florida Politics that it’s too early to commit to a candidate. “I haven’t decided yet, so I want to hear him speak and hear where he stands on things, ” said Raymond from Aventura, who declined to give his full name. Although he called himself a political independent, he said he most likely will go GOP next year.
Raymond said he liked Rubio’s youth, especially in contrast to Clinton and Bush. What was wrong with Bush? “Because of the connection with the Bush family,” Raymond said. “He’s a little older than what I’m looking for.” A West Palm Beach man named Marcus called Rubio one of his “top three” candidates, saying he likes the other two declared candidates in the contest, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Marcus said he likes that all three are relatively young senators, but he said Rubio’s gift of public speaking set him apart.
His wife Gabriella said she’s undecided as well, but prefers a Republican who “doesn’t play politics so much.”
“I see these guys, and they’re often talking a whole lot of nothing,” she said. “They’re not straightforward. I’m really looking for a candidate that’s real, that’s honest, that believes in what he’s saying, that believes in freedom for America.” She said she thought Rubio could attract Democratic votes in a general election because of Hispanic support. She said she couldn’t support Bush, one reason bring his support of Common Core federal education standards.
New College of Sarasota political science professor Frank Alcock calls Rubio one of the more intriguing candidates in the GOP field. He says it’s not sure how his candidacy will play out.
“It’s not hard to imagine him getting ‘boxed out’ of the primary space by Bush vis-à-vis the establishment wing of the party and by one or more hard line conservatives with the Party’s base voters. So he could flop and it won’t shock many people.” He adds that Rubio’s departure from conservative orthodoxy on a limited number of issues won’t hurt him all that much as he makes inroads with a broader range of party constituencies.