While many of his Republican colleagues continue to digest and dissect Mitt Romney’s presidential defeat less than two weeks ago, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is wasting zero time moving on — and in the process dominating the early buzz about the party’s prospective 2016 White House contenders.
First came his Saturday night turn in Iowa as the main speaker at a birthday bash/political fundraiser for that state’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, where Rubio held forth for close to 25 minutes. Today the spotlight’s on an interview GQ magazine conducted with him for its December issue (complete with a photo shoot).
The Q-&-A may redefine wide-ranging — it touches upon Rubio’s experiences at a Miami “foam” party, his best friends (his wife, followed by Jim DeMint, the South Carolina senator and Tea-Part darling) and the 41-year-old’s three favorite rap songs (“Straight Outta Compton,” by N.W.A.; Tupac Shakur’s “Killuminati;” Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”).
Generating the most attention is Rubio’s effort to thread a political needle, in a party where evangelical Christians are a major bloc, when he ‘s asked — appropos nothing — how old he thinks the earth is.
“I’m not a scientist, man,” he responds. “I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”
No mystery is that this youthful Cuban-American hailing from the largest of the nation’s most politically competitive states has strong cards to play in a party whose presidential candidate just got walloped among young voters and among all Hispanics, and who lost eight of the nine most intense battlegrounds (including Florida).
The National Journal’s Political Insiders Poll taken right after the Nov. 6 election underscored Rubio’s enviable starting position — in the survey of 88 Republican pros, he easily finished first as the party’s strongest 2016 presidential nominee, with 40 percent support. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ran second with 27 percent, while no other possible contender — including 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan — broke into double digits.
Rubio also earned obvious political dividends from his Iowa trip — Branstad praised him as the “kind of inspirational leader that’s going to help point [Republicans] in the right direction.”
And a close reading of the GQ interview, beyond Rubio’s expertise on rap music and his skittishness on evolution, shows a message in the making that aims to turn on its head current perceptions of the two parties and the debate on “big government.”
Republicans, Rubio says, have “allowed a myth to take hold in the minds of some that conservatism is about helping the people who have ‘made it’ and not about helping the people who are trying to make it. I think we have a very compelling argument, which happens to be true: the people who have made it, billionaires and multi-billion dollar corporations, they may not like big government, but they can afford to deal with it. They can hire the best lawyers in America and try to figure out the loopholes and the best lobbyists to create them. In fact, they use big government to their advantage. They’ll have regulations and rules written to hurt their competition.
“So, big government helps the people who have made it. It doesn’t help the people who are trying to make it, it crushes the people who are trying to make it. So, our challenge is, if we want free enterprise, limited government, and conservatism to be a viable and successful political movement in America, we’ve got to make that connection for people.”
Sounds like a stump speech to us.