NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 14: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sips water while addressing the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 14, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. A slate of important conserative leaders are slated to speak during the the American Conservative Union's annual conference. Credit: Getty Images
Democrats who believe that the Republican Party is poised to tear itself asunder with internal dissent received what many believe was a long overdue wake-up call last week when Florida Senator Marco Rubio asserted that the only "idea" he and his party needs is the one "called America." And, according to the rising GOP star, that idea "still works."
During his remarks at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Rubio seemed poised and at ease as he spoke about citizens' role in an increasingly polarized American society. He astutely applauded how the U.S. is home to the largest middle class in the world, and why that is a feat that cannot be accomplished elsewhere. A family man, Rubio also spoke about the breakdown of the American family and the obligations we, as citizens, have to each other as members of a community.
From student loans to fair trade; from the proper role of government to the sanctity of life, the audience responded heartily to Rubio's roughly 20-minute long speech.
In terms of American exceptionalism -- or in Rubio's words, the American "idea" -- he offered "proof" that what has made the U.S. different still works. "Who are they [other countries] copying?" Rubio asked.
"They are not copying the former Soviet Union. They are not copying Russia. They're not even copying China. They are copying us with every step towards free enterprise."
"Millions of people all over the world are emerging from generational poverty. Because they were inspired by he American idea. They may claim to hate us, but they'd sure like to be us," Rubio stated before the cheering crowd.
His rousing words and demonstrated leadership during what is perhaps the most important conservative event of the year may not only have redeemed Rubio from his awkward, water bottle-addled rebuttal of President Obama's Sate of the Union Address, but also solidified a place at the table for the Republican Party's more libertarian-leaning new guard, which also includes Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, among others.
Early life and personal life
The proud son of hard-working Cuban immigrants, Rubio, who was born in Miami, has been interested in public service from a young age. "I gained an interest in politics and history from my uncle, who would read books and newspapers out loud to us," he has said in previous interviews.
The senator's father worked for an extended period as a bartender and his mother worked in the retail and service industries. Given his parents' livelihoods, Rubio spent a portion of his childhood in Las Vegas, Nevada, before ultimately returning to Florida in the 1980s.
"My parents were working class folks," he has said of his upbringing.
"My dad was a bartender for most of his life, my mom was a maid and a cashier and a stock clerk at WalMart. We were not people of financial means in terms of significant financial means. I always told them, 'I didn't always have what I wanted. I always had what I needed.' My parents always provided that."
Since taking public office, Rubio has often spoken with affection about the Hispanic community, saying its members understand the American Dream and "have not forgotten what they were promised - that in the U.S., a free market system, allows us all to succeed economically, achieve stability and security for your family and leave your children better off than yourselves."
An accomplished athlete, Rubio earned a football scholarship to Tarkio College in Missouri, where he attended for one year before enrolling at the University of Florida to complete his degree. Rubio went on to earn his law degree from the University of Miami in 1996.
He and his wife, Jeanette, have four young children and live in West Miami. He is also a protege of
former Governor Jeb Bush, who mentored the young Rubio, helping him rise meteorically in state House of Representatives to Speaker after only five years. Jeb Bush is also credited by some to helping Rubio attain his 2010 Republican Senate primary against establishment-backed Charlie Crist.
With a fresh outlook uncommon to party stalwarts yet a substantive enough resume to lend him the experience and political chops needed to be considered a serious contender, Rubio is likely to be front-and-center as Republicans eye their presidential nominee for the 2016 election cycle. Of course, he was already on 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's short-list of vice presidential candidates, after serving in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008 and from 2010 in the U.S. Senate.
Rubio sits on the Commerce, Foreign Relations, Intelligence, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees among others.
On the issues
In terms of positions, the Washington Post considers Rubio much "more conservative than you think," with the one caveat being his support for immigration reform.
Indeed, Rubio's somewhat unconventional support of the GOP-crafted immigration reform similar to the DREAM Act, which would grant visas for military service or college, might give him kudos in the Hispanic community despite his opposition to outright amnesty.
On the issue of abortion, Rubio has been outspoken about his pro-life beliefs and on the broad scale of American healthcare options, opposes Obamacare.
Pro-business, Rubio believes in shrinking government by lowering taxes, supporting cutting cap-and-trade and through his opposition to raising the debt-ceiling.
Of regulations, he has said that when taken "too far" they "seem to exist only for the purpose of justifying the existence of a regulator."
"It kills the people trying to start a business."
He is an ardent supporter of Israel, has been vocal in calling terrorists by that very name, on the domestic front, has a pro-gun rights voting record, stating that the Second Amendment "is a constitutional right."
"I didn't make it up, the Republican Party didn't make it up. It's in the Constitution. I think it's just as important as any of the other rights in our constitution."
The only issue Rubio has changed his platform on of late would be regarding same-sex marriage, which he now supports -- arguably in the spirit of Federalism.
While Sen. Paul beat out Rubio in CPAC's straw poll, many believe the Florida lawmaker is a more traditional political leader who is perhaps more diplomatic than some of his stauncher Tea Party-oriented counterparts.
“Obviously Rubio is dynamic and what people would consider a more traditional political speaker,” Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party told the Washington Times in response to the senator's recent speech at CPAC.
“That kind of fired up the crowd, more with the style, though he had substance too — but he had more of a persona of a political guy. Where, I think, Rand Paul was more staid, more deliberate on what he had to say, and his appeal was the message. So you had this very good contrast, literally back-to-back, where you got to see the two directions of the Republican Party.”
While his performance following President Obama's State of the Union Address may have left some wondering if Rubio is the great orator one arguably needs to be to secure a presidential election, the senator has typically been considered gifted in the area of public speaking. Many of his speeches, like the one at CPAC, earned the senator a standing ovation.
With his immigrant background and fresh take on certain political issues while remaining traditional on others, Rubio seems well-poised to garner at least consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nod. At the least, he is and will remain a key player in the GOP's new guard moving forward.