Political Hay

Rubio Wows Conservatives

A rising Republican star made a memorable national debut yesterday at the annual CPAC gathering in Washington, D.C.

By 2.19.10

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In a rousing keynote speech yesterday before the faithful at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio demonstrated to conservatives from around the country why he's captured the hearts and minds of so many Florida Republicans in his race for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat.

When Rubio announced his intention to run against moderate-to-liberal Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Republican establishment was amused, and lined up behind the popular Crist. Big Money Men showered Crist with checks.

No one's laughing now as Rubio has surged from 50 points behind to, depending on which current poll you believe, a lead of between three to 14 points. Rubio has the mo, and it's because he has run an aggressive, retail campaign based on the conservative themes he wowed his politically savvy Thursday audience with.

Rubio praised America as the greatest country in the history of the world. He said our greatness, our exceptionalism, comes from our commitment to limited government, personal freedom, and the free enterprise system, all things our predecessors chose, fought and bled for, and that are being attacked now by the current leftist administration and Congress. He said we need to send people to Washington who will offer and fight for a clear alternative to what is nothing less than a threat to America's continued greatness.

"What kind of America do you want your children to inherit," Rubio asked. "We must decide. Do we want to continue to be exceptional? Or do we want to be like everyone else?"

Rubio said our personal freedoms and the material bounty Americans have enjoyed are threatened by a clueless political class, too many of whose members believe the free enterprise system is unfair, who believe that America's enemies exist because of something we did, who believe the answer to everything is more government, and who while they frequently invoke "democracy," are in fact contemptuous of personal freedom.

"People who think this way were elected in 2008," Rubio said. "They're using the downturn as cover, not to fix America but to change America, to fundamentally redefine the role of government in our lives and the role of America in the world." 

And the result for most Americans has not been "change we can believe in." In less than a year, Americans have figured out what's going on and are now engaged in what Rubio calls "the single greatest political pushback in American history."

Rubio wants to be part of that pushback and, without mentioning his opponent's name, made it clear he believes Crist isn't up to this challenge.

"America wants leaders to stand up to that agenda, not be co-opted by it," Rubio said. "The U.S. Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many. America already has a Democratic Party. We don't need two Democratic Parties."

This is a clear reference to the fact that Crist whooped-up President Obama's failed "stimulus" slush fund before it was adopted, supported a carbon cap and trade program like the president's, and has frolicked over the past two years with other liberal programs and spending schemes in order to show how "bipartisan" he is.

But mostly Rubio's target was Obama and the liberal Congress rather than Crist. Rubio said at the national level we need to simplify the tax code and lower taxes for everyone, lower corporate income taxes so American companies can be competitive, eliminate "double taxation" such as capital gains taxes and the death tax altogether, and generally get out of the way of the free enterprise system rather than shackling it, or trying to replace it with government command and control, which the Obama bunch is busy doing.

"Jobs aren't created by politicians," Rubio said. "They're created by people who risk money to start a business or to expand an existing one."

Rubio, who has expressed skepticism about the global warming theory and its attendant horrors, said we should "stop big government energy mandates like cap and trade and instead rely on the American innovator to make us energy independent."

Rubio said we need to reduce federal spending and get serious about getting the national debt under control. We should enact "lawsuit abuse reform." He said these issues are so important and so consequential that "2010 is not just a choice between Democrat and Republican, but a referendum on the very identity of our nation."

Rubio was just as tough on Obama's approach in foreign affairs as he was on the Democrats' domestic peccadilloes. Obama may have difficulty understanding that America is in a fight with radical Islam. No so Rubio.

"We will do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to defeat Islamic terrorism," Rubio said to cheers. "We will punish their allies like Iran. We will stand with our allies like Israel. We will target and we will destroy terrorist cells and the leaders of those cells. The ones that survive, we will capture. We will get useful information from them."

Rubio paused here for more applause before adding, "And then we will bring them to justice in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo, not a civilian courtroom in Manhattan."

That one brought the house down.

THE SON OF IMMIGRANT PARENTS, Rubio was absolutely lyrical about the greatness and opportunity of America. A greatness that doesn't have to end.

"I was not born to a wealthy or connected family, but I've never felt limited by the circumstances of my birth," said Rubio, whose parents lost their country to a Cuban dictatorship. "I haven't felt limited because I'm a member of the greatest society in history. There's never been a country like the United States of America, where our rights come from God, not from the government."

He asked the 3,000 or so on hand for his speech if there was any other country they would rather be in, or if they had ever heard of "a boatload of Americans arriving on the shores of another country."

Rubio's parents, still living, worked long hours in a procession of blue-collar jobs -- his father mostly a bartender and his mother a hotel maid, stock clerk, and department store clerk -- so that Marco could go to college and take advantage of what America offers.

"It's easy to forget how special America is," Rubio said. "I was raised by exiles, people who lost their country to socialism. They came to America with virtually nothing -- no English, no money, no friends. They know how different America is from the rest of the world."

Rubio said dreams are possible in America because we don't allow government to determine everything. When government makes all the decisions, those who can influence the government get ahead, while everyone else gets the shaft. He said for more than 230 years Americans have chosen individual liberty in a system where government protects our rights rather than granting them.

"Every chance I've ever had, and anything I will ever achieve, I owe to God, to my parents' sacrifices, and to the United States of America," Rubio said. "My parents' hard work opened doors. Their story is the essence of the American miracle."

Rubio says if America faces and overcomes its current challenges, the miracle will continue. But, "If we fail our children will inherit a diminished America."

AFTER RUBIO'S SPEECH, interrupted frequently by applause and ending to a standing ovation, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who had introduced Rubio, said, "I could use a man like that in the United State Senate."

DeMint may get his wish. In addition to the Rubio-friendly polls, which mostly gage the opinions of a cross-section of registered Republicans, Rubio is doing exceptionally well with grass-roots Republicans, the folks who turn out to vote in primaries.

So far there have been 23 straw polls of Republican organizations such as county Republican executive committees, Republican women's clubs, college Republican groups, and Republican business groups. Rubio has not only won all 23 of them but won them by lopsided margins. The totals in the 23 contests are 1993 for Rubio and 265 for Crist, with a handful of votes going to marginal candidates. Rubio even beat Crist more than two to one in a vote of the Republican executive committee of Crist's home county of Pinellas.

Crist has tried to downplay the butt-whupping Rubio has administered in these votes of people who are the most active in the party, presumably know the most about him, and who are the type of folks who would go through snow (if we had it here), rain, fire, floods, or hurricanes to vote on primary day. These are just a small number of voters and "the only poll that matters is the one on election-day and I can't wait," Crist has said in what has to be one of the purest examples of whistling past the grave-yard on record.

In the eighties, Reba McIntire had a great country hit, the refrain to which is, "How blue, can you make me?" In Florida, the answer seems to be "not-very." The Sunshine State, which went for the little hustler from Chicago by two points in '08, seems to be over its dalliance with leftism. The same polls that show the solidly conservative candidate ahead in the Republican primary race show that Rubio would also comfortably defeat any of the Democrats now running in the general if the election were held now.

But aye, there's the rub. The primary isn't until August, the general in November. Months are lifetimes in politics, and things can always change. But right now there's every indication that the keynote speaker for the 37th annual CPAC will represent Florida in the Senate beginning in 2011. By the way, the keynote speaker for the first CPAC in 1973 was an obscure western governor named Ronald Reagan. And he did OK too.

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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.