Florida Senator Marco Rubio was a star attraction at the recently concluded Koch Forum in Rancho Mirage, California. Priming his base for an entry into the 2016 GOP presidential primary, the senator offered ideas on taxes, foreign policy, and national security. Rubio’s stances pleased the majority of those gathered..
But the senator is going to have to travel a great distance before he will be able to put together a credible presidential campaign that connects to the average American. Convincing Charles Koch that he is qualified to lead the nation is one thing; proving to a majority of voters that he has the ability to be a good president is quite another thing altogether.
Rubio is already in trouble with constituencies with whom he should be well-connected.
Many Hispanic voters view Rubio as a quitter on immigration reform. In words that may yet prove to be prophetic, Senator Lindsey Graham stated in 2013: "If we don't pass immigration reform, if we don't get it off the table in a reasonable practical way, it doesn't matter who you (Republicans) run in 2016." Senator Rubio is seen by Latinos in large states such as Texas and California as a man who walked away from a comprehensive, bipartisan Senate bill on immigration that he had helped to craft, apparently in a bid to hold on to his Tea Party base in south Florida.
In a nation still working its way out of the Great Recession, the senator’s silence on economic issues is also troubling. Rubio’s chances—and by extension the chances of his GOP rivals—to win in 2016 were dealt a serious blow by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s actions. Even as voters across the country are supporting referenda to raise wages in order to boost Americans’ buying power, Fallin signed a bill last year banning Oklahoma’s cities from taking action to increase the minimum wage at the local level.
Based on model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) this bill betrays the GOP’s historical faith in the ability of local people to address their own problems. The Republican Party’s increasing fealty to ALEC puts the GOP out of touch with the majority of Americans who support increases in the minimum wage in order to get our economy back on track.
Mr. Rubio has a decision to make. If the senator from Florida continues wasting political capital on failed policies—extending the embargo on Cuba, for example—while ignoring the struggles of America’s workers, he is going to discover that all of the cash in the Koch treasuries will not buy him a seat in the White House.
Americans are weary of a political system that is purchased lock, stock, and barrel by financial elites. Giving them more of the same is not going to win an election.
Paul Ortiz is director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and associate professor of history at the University of Florida.