Florida Senator Marco Rubio brought the house down at CPAC Thursday with a pronouncement that, while popular with the crowd, is sure to give Republican consultants looking to revamp the party headaches.
"Now, as soon as I'm done speaking, I'll tell you what the criticism on the Left is gonna be. Number one, that he drank too much water," Rubio said to laughter. "Number two, that he didn't offer new ideas, and there's the fallacy of it. We don't a new idea. There is an idea. The idea is called America, and it still works."
Applause thundered in response.
Ironically, neither complaint about Rubio's speech was accurate. He only drank water at one point during the speech, for about a second (and made a joke of it), and did offer new ideas. Specifically, Rubio singled out the topic of student loans for arguments about how conservatives needed to take the issue on, citing his own experience with student loans, and suggested that better cost benefit analysis tools for students looking to attend college would help.
"You should be very concerned about student loan debt. It is the next big bubble in America. I know something about it. I graduated with over $100,000 in student loans, and I paid it off last year with the proceeds from my book, which is available on Amazon for $12.99," Rubio joked. "Let me tell you who that really hurts. Student loans, you know who that really hurts? It hurts the middle class. Because many of their parents make just a little too much to qualify for grants, and so they have to rely on these student loans, and we have to start solving that problem."
He went on: "There are all sorts of innovative ideas, whether it's self-directed learning, whether it's empowering people with more information so they know how much they can expect to make if they graduate with a certain degree, how much they can expect to owe. Whatever it may be, we have to tackle this issue. It is a major problem for our future and a major problem for the American middle class."
Rubio also changed tack subtly on the issue of gay marriage, endorsing a Federalist approach, whereas in the past he had stood behind the one-size-fits-all federal policy embodied by the Defense of Marriage Act. As such, while his dig at the necessity of "new ideas" might have been powerful, Rubio actually sold himself short. He did have new ideas, and to the extent that anyone denies that, they arguably ignore the substance of his speech.