Campaign 2016: Senator Marco Rubio, GOP Presidential Candidate
from The Water's Edge

Campaign 2016: Senator Marco Rubio, GOP Presidential Candidate

Marco Rubio Announcement
Marco Rubio Announcement

Long shots sometimes pay off. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio. He won his first race for political office at age 26 by beating an incumbent county commissioner. A year later he won a seat in Florida’s state house by upsetting a local media celebrity. And in 2010 he won his Senate seat by beating a popular governor who was expected to coast to victory. So it’s no surprise that yesterday Rubio declared his presidential candidacy even though he trails badly in the early polls. If he wins the presidency, he would be the second youngest person ever elected president and the third youngest ever inaugurated. If he loses, he will likely forfeit his Senate seat. As they say, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

The Basics:

Name: Marco Rubio

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Politics and Government

Elections and Voting

Date of Birth: May 28, 1971

Place of Birth: Miami, Florida

Religion: Roman Catholic (attends Catholic and Southern Baptist services, was formerly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Political Party: Republican Party

Marital Status: Married (Jeanette)

More on:

Politics and Government

Elections and Voting

Children:Amanda (14), Daniella (12), Anthony (9), and Dominick (7)

Alma Mater: Attended Tarkio College and Santa Fe Community College; University of Florida (BS); University of Miami Law School(JD)

Political Career: U.S. Senator from Florida (2011- Present); Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (2007-2009); Florida House of Representatives (2000-2009); West Miami City Commissioner (1998-2000)

Campaign Website:

Twitter Handle: @marcorubio

Campaign Announcement

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Rubio kicked off his run for the White House at Miami’s Freedom Tower. The site doesn’t mean much to most Americans, but it’s iconic for Cuban-Americans. In the 1960s and 1970s, some 450,000 Cubans passed through its doors to begin their new lives in the United States. So speaking at the “Ellis Island of the South” makes sense for a candidate looking to stress his rags-to-riches story.

Rubio channeled his inner-JFK in his eighteen-minute announcement speech. With a veiled reference to early front-runners Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, he called for a generational change in America’s political leadership:

"The time has come for our generation to lead the way towards a new American century.

"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.

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."

The speech was light on policy remarks, both domestic and foreign. But Rubio made clear that he favors a stronger foreign policy:

And if America accepts the mantle of global leadership, by abandoning this administration’s dangerous concessions to Iran, and its hostility to Israel; by reversing the hollowing out of our military; by giving our men and women in uniform the resources, care and gratitude they deserve; by no longer being passive in the face of Chinese and Russian aggression; and by ending the near total disregard for the erosion of democracy and human rights around the world; then our nation will be safer, the world more stable, and our people more prosperous.

Rubio added that “when America fails to lead, global chaos inevitably follows.” So he is staking out quite different terrain than his rival for the GOP nomination, Rand Paul.

Rubio’s Story

Rubio was born to Cuban immigrants who “earned their way to the middle class working humble jobs.” He describes his family as the epitome of the American dream, saying that “limited government and free enterprise has [sic] helped make my family’s dream come true in America.” This humble-beginnings narrative helped Rubio earn the moniker “crown prince” of the Tea Party and spurred his rise to national prominence.

Rubio began his political career in 1998 by winning a seat on West Miami City Commission. The next year he won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. Within three years he was the Florida House majority leader; within seven, he was speaker of the House. Rubio leapt to the national stage in 2010 when he beat former governor Charlie Crist and one other candidate in the race for Florida’s open Senate seat. Less than two years later Rubio’s name was being mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Rubio made headlines in 2013 when he delivered the first-ever bilingual rebuttal to a State of the Union Address. Unfortunately for Rubio, the news media spent little time discussing what he said about President Barack Obama’s speech. Instead, they focused on the awkward water break he took partway through his rebuttal.

Rubio’s mentors include fellow Floridian Jeb Bush. Their relationship goes back nearly twenty years; they met while Rubio was working on Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. They have publicly expressed their mutual admiration; Rubio has described Bush as “the man I admired most in Florida politics” and Bush has said “I have a special place in my heart for [Rubio].”

The rub here is that Bush will likely join the presidential race. Rubio tried to defuse that potentially awkward situation in a February interview:

I wouldn’t be running against Jeb Bush. If I ran, I would run because I believe I’m the right person for the right time in our country’s history. And certainly, voters will make that decision, not me. My job is to go out and do the best I can if I decide to run for president to convince them that that’s me. But I have admiration for him, and continue to have personal affection for him as well.

The Bush-Rubio friendship may survive the GOP primary, but don’t look for a Rubio-Bush (or Bush-Rubio) ticket. The Twelfth Amendment pretty much rules that out by discouraging a president and vice president from being legal residents of the same state. (If they are, that state’s electors cannot vote for them in the Electoral College, so say goodbye to Florida’s twenty-nine electoral votes.) Yes, Bush or Rubio could follow Dick Cheney’s example. Back in 2000, he changed his residency from Texas to Wyoming so he could run with George W. Bush. But Cheney had lived in Texas for only a few years; he grew up in Wyoming and represented it for a dozen years in Congress. Neither Bush nor Rubio can claim similar loyalties to another state.

Rubio’s Message

Rubio campaigned for the Senate on the slogan “Reclaim America.” That’s now the name of his PAC. He argues, however, that to reclaim America the GOP needs to look not to the past but the future:

I believe that the Republican Party has an opportunity in 2016 to do something it hasn’t been able to do in a long time, and that is make the argument that we’re the party of the future, that we are the party that understands the twenty-first century and understands what it’s going to take to make America great in the twenty-first century. And I believe that if I run for president I have a unique contribution to make to that debate.

Rubio capitalized on the Tea Party’s momentum to gain his seat in the Senate, and he’ll likely stress limited government principles in his presidential campaign. In his book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, Rubio argues:

Government doesn’t have to be the enemy, but too much government has produced a new kind of inequality in America: opportunity inequality.

The question is, what policies will do the most to create opportunities? Rubio knows he has to have a good answer to that question. He writes in American Dreams:

Republicans haven’t been creative or innovative enough in offering solutions. We have spent plenty of time opposing the president’s agenda, but not nearly enough time applying our principles of limited government and free enterprise to the challenges of our time.

What those policies are, and whether they add up, remains to be seen.

Foreign Policy Views

Rubio sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, giving him more foreign policy experience than many of his 2016 GOP rivals. Rubio intends to press that advantage. Back in January he took a shot at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:

It is important for the next president of the United States to understand the diversity of these challenges, to have a global strategic vision and an understanding of what the U.S.’s role in it is. Now does that mean that a governor can’t acquire that? Of course, they could. But I would also say that taking a trip to some foreign city for two days doesn’t make you Henry Kissinger either.

So while Ronald Reagan may be one of Rubio’s heroes, Rubio probably won’t observe the Gipper’s Eleventh Commandment about not criticizing fellow Republicans.

Where does Rubio fall on the foreign policy spectrum? More toward the interventionist end. He’s a bigger fan of a muscular and forceful foreign policy than, say, Ted Cruz and (especially) Rand Paul. Rubio sees hard power as central to U.S. influence abroad, and he frequently calls for the military option to be exercised.

On that score, Rubio has plenty of criticism for Obama. In a speech three years ago at the Brookings Institution laying out his foreign policy vision, Rubio both granted one of the president’s central foreign policy claims and denied it at the same time:

Global problems do require international coalitions. On that point this administration is correct. But effective international coalitions don’t form themselves. They need to be instigated and led, and more often than not, they can only be instigated and led by us.

In short, there is no substitute for American leadership:

I would prefer for [Bashar al-]Assad never have to govern Syria. I would prefer for Iran to be governed by normal people and not a radical jihadist cleric. But that’s the world we have, and we have to confront it. Now here’s the question. If we don’t lead the world in confronting it, who will lead the world in confronting it, because the truth is, no one can. The United Nations can’t do it, the Russians obviously are in many ways supportive of some of the things that are happening. China has no interest in it. There is no substitute for American leadership on the global stage. And you can ignore our foreign adversaries, but they won’t ignore us. And eventually, you’re going to have to deal with them.

Rubio has long opposed the administration’s Iran negotiations. The title of an op-ed he recently penned for Foreign Policy makes that point clear: “It’s Time to Stop Enabling Iran.” He wrote:

We need to replace détente with rollback. We can no longer continue to passively accept Iran’s attempts at regional domination. Until we have a broader regional strategy to pressure Iran and reverse its recent gains throughout the region, the nuclear negotiations are unlikely to deliver an outcome that truly precludes Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.

In January, he quipped that “at this pace, in five years, we’re going to build the bomb for them.”

Rubio has taken an equally hard line on Syria. Back in 2012 he argued that:

the United States must step up and lead an aggressive international campaign to hasten Bashar al-Assad’s departure from power.

His “aggressive international campaign” included diplomacy, safe zones, and arming the rebels. But Rubio voted against air strikes in Syria in 2013, saying that he was “unconvinced that the use of force proposed here will work.” That put him on the same side of the issue as his fellow senators Cruz and Paul.

Rubio similarly believes that air strikes alone won’t stop the Islamic State. He believes that ground forces, though not just from the United States, are needed:

I do believe we need to seriously move forward on a plan that involves not only U.S. special forces operations, but Jordanians and Turks and Saudis and all these other countries to put some sort of ground element in place that can at least confront these guys and stop the spread and growth until these local forces are capable of doing the job themselves.

Rubio favors taking a hard line in confronting Russian aggression against Ukraine. He thinks that the issue isn’t just Ukraine:

I think the goal Putin has here is to basically, it’s not just about Ukraine, it’s about completely reorganizing the post-Cold War, post-Soviet era order in Europe. . . . And in that context that’s why he wants to weaken and divide and perhaps even force NATO to fall apart.

He has pushed for tougher sanctions against Moscow, and he is co-sponsoring a Senate bill that would provide lethal military aid to the Ukrainian army. He would also add Georgia as a member of NATO.

One major foreign policy challenge Rubio hasn’t said much about is China. He has described China as an aggressive power that threatens its neighbors, believes it is intent on surpassing the United States, and argues that U.S. economic engagement hasn’t given the Chinese people freedom. He hasn’t, however, explained in any depth how U.S. policy toward China would change in a Rubio administration.

By contrast, Rubio has said a lot about another totalitarian regime, Cuba. Although Rubio’s parents left Cuba before Castro seized power, he is a staunch critic of the Castro regime. (Rubio found himself heavily criticized in 2011 when it came to light that his claim that his parents had fled Cuba to escape Castro wasn’t true.) Not surprisingly, Rubio has vowed to do everything in his power to thwart Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Havana:

This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, based on a lie. The White House has conceded everything and gained little. I’m committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these changes as possible.

That said, Rubio has supported Obama’s foreign policy moves on occasion. After the president said in 2011 that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi had to go, Rubio called on Congress to pass a binding resolution stating that:

removing Moamar Qadhafi from power is in our national interest and therefore should authorize the President to accomplish this goal.

Rubio believes that Latin America should figure prominently in American foreign policy. He wrote in 2012:

The United States cannot afford to keep putting Latin America on the back burner as it focuses the bulk of its attention on Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The Western Hemisphere holds significant strategic interest for the U.S. — as well as enormous promise. Efforts should be focused in four key areas: building a democratic movement, enhancing trade and economic ties, cooperating on energy issues and building and strengthening security alliances.

That said, the one issue that resonates with many people south of the border—immigration reform—is a sore spot for Rubio. Long a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, he cosponsored major reform legislation in 2013. But the legislation was pilloried by other Republicans as “amnesty,” and he eventually repudiated his own bill. Now, he favors more piecemeal change:

You have 10 or 12 million people in this country, many of whom have lived here for longer than a decade, have not otherwise violated our law other than immigration laws, I get all that. But what I’ve learned is you can’t even have a conversation about that until people believe and know, not just believe but it’s proven to them that future illegal immigration will be controlled.

These piecemeal reform efforts don’t come with a path to citizenship.

More on Rubio

In his autobiography, An American Son, A Memoir, Rubio recounts his rise from the son of humble immigrant parents to the national stage. His second book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, retells this story and throws in more policy details. Rubio’s Senate page offers a succinct version of his life story and his policy preference.

Rubio has written many op-eds. These include “Making Putin Pay,” “Let’s Reject the Veiled Isolationism of Obama and Clinton,” “A Victory for Oppression,” and “Government Is Crashing the Internet Party.” NPR conducted a great interview with Rubio on the morning of his campaign announcement.

The National Review explains “Why Marco Rubio Would Be the Strongest Republican Candidate.” Time magazine profiles the “Immigrant Son.” The Wall Street Journal outlines “The Case for, and Against, Marco Rubio as Republican Presidential Candidate.” Foreign Policy summarizes Rubio’s foreign policy with “Seven Things You Need to Know About Marco Rubio’s Foreign Policy.” The Washington Post details Rubio’s 10 largest challenges. The New York Times offers up “Things You May Not Know About Marco Rubio.” Parade’s Community Table profiled the Rubio family. provides a list of Rubio’s remarks on various foreign policy topics. Manuel Roig-Franzia has written a biography of Rubio, appropriately titled, The Rise of Marco Rubio.

Rachael Kauss and Alex Laplaza assisted in the preparation of this post.