Marco Rubio and the GOP: Running on Empty

It wasn’t just about the famous water lunge. Senator Marco Rubio’s response to the State of the Union was most notable for how much it sounded like the very same failed policies that Republicans have been running on for years if not decades—the same failed set of ideas that Mitt Romney ran for president on just last year as the GOP’s standard-bearer. Rubio’s remarks have been criticized for being a “rehash” of “familiar GOP themes” which preached “to the Republican choir rather than broadening the party’s reach.” Many might remember Rubio’s speech last night for the “thirst seen ‘round the world,” but it would be more aptly remembered, or forgotten, as “Rubio’s Romney Rehash.”

Where were Marco Rubio’s new ideas?
President Obama’s agenda has become much more ambitious since the election, ranging from universal pre-kindergarten to raising the minimum wage to gun control to immigration reform. But neither the Republican Party’s agenda nor its rhetoric has changed a whit. Indeed, after the “47 percent” debacle, the Romney campaign tried to move on with a memo arguing that the choice in the election was “big government vs. free enterprise.” Americans, apparently, didn’t agree. So it was surprising to see Rubio drilling deep into the same long-tapped wells:

Marco Rubio Has Learned Nothing
“But there was one important point in Marco Rubio’s remarks that I don’t think has been highlighted. It’s true, as Andy Rosenthal says, that Rubio mainly reminded us that Republicans don’t like government or taxes; surprise! But he also reminded us that Republicans don’t like reality.” “He and his party are now committed to the belief that their pre-crisis doctrine was perfect, that there are no lessons from the worst financial crisis in three generations except that we should have even less regulation. And given another shot at power, they’ll test that thesis by giving the bankers a chance to do it all over again.”

In Republican response, Rubio offers back-to-basics conservative message
Republicans chose Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), a fresh face in their party, to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday. But if the messenger was new, the message Rubio offered was back-to-basics, a recommitment of the party to traditional conservative notions of economic growth. Convinced that Obama would retain the unapologetically liberal tone of last month’s inaugural address in the State of the Union speech, Rubio offered no sense of a party humbled by its November losses, instead advancing a strong defense of Republican values.

Rubio’s Rebuttal
In his speech, Mr. Rubio followed the Republican rebranding strategy by rephrasing the party’s grand old policies without offering any new ideas. He did a pretty good job sounding like he learned the lessons of 2012…Both Mr. Rubio and Mr. Paul laced their remarks with the usual G.O.P. propaganda that Mr. Obama hates jobs, small businessmen and entrepreneurs. Judging from these two speeches, the Republicans don’t intend to respond constructively to Mr. Obama’s call for a new direction in Washington. And they don’t intend to move beyond their failed, 1980s-vintage economic policies.

Rubio: New Tone, Familiar Ideas
No question too that Marco Rubio puts a more appealing face on the party than we've seen in some long time…But here's where, from my point of view, the Rubio reply fell short.

  • He's still talking about fixing the economy by fixing the deficit, rather than the other way around: fix the deficit by fixing the economy.
  • He's still using "growth" as code for tax cuts aimed at upper-income groups, rather than as a broader agenda that does include tax reform, but that also includes measures to relieve household debt and vigorously expansionary monetary policy.
  • He's still signed up for the program of cutting social benefits right away and postponing Medicare reforms to later. It seems to me that here again the priority should be reversed. The sooner we restrain the growth of healthcare costs, the better. But cutting unemployment insurance and food stamps while more than 12 million remain unemployed is a formula both for unnecessary personal hardship and for fiscal drag that will slow recovery.

Thus far, Rubio-ism is merely Ryanism with a human face. If Rubio is to be the party's "savior," as promised by TIME magazine, he needs to develop a new message to accompany his new tone.

First Thoughts: Did He Broaden the Party’s Reach?
But here’s a separate question we have: Did Rubio broaden his party’s reach? While he’s younger than Mitt Romney and has a more relatable life story, Rubio’s speech was almost a rehash of almost everything we heard from Romney and the GOP in 2012. He accused Obama of believing that the free enterprise system is the source of America’s problems (when the president praised it in his State of the Union); he said that Obama wants to grow the size of the government; and he attacked the health-care law. All of those messages had hundreds of millions of dollars behind them in the 2012 presidential election, and Republicans got just 47% of the vote in the presidential election. There is no doubt that Rubio is a GOP politician with a bright future and plenty of personal appeal. But it also seemed like Rubio was preaching to the Republican choir rather than broadening the party’s reach. It’s a speech that is being very well received among conservatives, but was it a persuasion speech?

GOP rebuttal: One small sip for Rubio…
Florida’s Senator and rising GOP star Marco Rubio ripped President Obama for promoting a big government agenda in the official Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union…The lack of fresh ideas was evident in Rubio’s possible reference to the traditional (and largely discredited) GOP model of trickle-down economics: “Economic growth is the best way to help the middle class.”

Rubio's Lies About Healthcare Reform
Marco Rubio’s rebuttal to the State of the Union address was remarkable for being unremarkable—it contained much of the same warmed-over pablum we heard from the stage in Tampa Bay at the Republican National Convention six months ago. President Obama “believes [the government] the cause of our problems” and that “More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back.” There was even a Solyndra reference. But the most interesting and substantive part of Rubio’s speech was the attack he leveled against healthcare reform. The Affordable Care Act will be implemented over the next—wait, sorry. I’m incredibly thirsty. I need some water before I finish this post.

Rubio responds to president's speech with familiar GOP themes
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the fresh face Republicans chose to respond to the State of the Union address, sounded familiar party themes Tuesday night, accusing President Obama of stifling economic growth through an overreliance on taxes and spending. The opportunity "to make it to the middle class or beyond, no matter where you start out in life, it isn't bestowed on us from Washington," Rubio said in his nationally broadcast remarks, but comes from "a vibrant economy." That is something presidents in both parties, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, have recognized, Rubio said. "But President Obama? He believes it's the cause of our problems."