Nov 21 2018
How Marco Rubio is retrofitting his brand of conservatism for the Trump era
By James Hohmann
November, 21, 2018
Marco Rubio has been trying to think more from the perspective of a blue-collar worker than a white-collar consumer since he lost the GOP nomination to President Trump two years ago. The Florida senator says that’s reshaped his views on economic growth, free trade and China. Lately, he’s been seeking advice from policy experts at the major think tanks on the right as he seeks to fashion what he calls a “pro-work” agenda that can excite Trump’s base supporters while staying true to the conservative principles he’s espoused throughout his political career.
Trump has accelerated a national political realignment, and Rubio is grappling with how best to respond. “Clearly there are people that have voted for Republicans in the past that no longer support Republicans, and clearly there are people who have voted for Democrats in the past that are now supporting Republicans,” he said in an interview. “There’s been a shift, almost a tradeoff. It comes down to what kind of district do you live in: Do you live in a district that has more of the latter or the former?”
Reflecting on the lessons of this month’s elections, Rubio lamented that House races became hyper-nationalized. He said his friends Carlos Curbelo in Miami and Barbara Comstock in Northern Virginia ran almost flawless campaigns and carefully distanced themselves from Trump, but both lost reelection anyway because of the national headwinds. Rubio believes Republicans must find a way to appeal to those who supported Mitt Romney in 2012 but then voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as voters who backed Barack Obama before breaking for Trump.
The senator fared best against Trump during the 2016 primaries in the same suburban areas where Republicans suffered their heaviest losses this month. I noted that many of those Romney-Clinton voters might have been Romney-Rubio voters if he had won the nomination instead of Trump. “Yeah, well, the key to the future – if you want to have a governing majority – is you have to somehow bring back the people you lost without losing the people you brought,” he replied. “I'm not saying that's easy to do, and that's certainly not the central goal of what we're trying to achieve here, but I think in trying to achieve that, you end up with the potential to have a governing majority or at least a governing consensus that allows you to pass public policy.”
Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, said Rubio is operating from the premise that, rather than dividing people by playing on their cultural grievances, he can unite a center-right coalition with a platform of specific policies that will improve everyone’s quality of life. “I’m predisposed to agree with that,” said Levin, a former domestic policy staffer in George W. Bush’s White House who has talked regularly with Rubio since he joined the Senate in 2011. “If you look at the political situation for Republicans, especially after this election, the challenge they have is their coalition consists of suburban families and working-class voters. … Trump focuses on hating what they hate, but that doesn’t work with suburban families. … Republicans have to offer an agenda that speaks to middle-class and working-class families. That’s the role Sen. Rubio played during tax reform.”
During that debate, Rubio pushed to expand the child tax credit. An amendment he introduced with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to raise the corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 21 percent to pay for a larger child tax credit was opposed by Trump, as well as GOP leadership, and went down on a 29-to-71 vote. Rubio threatened to torpedo the entire legislation, which overwhelmingly benefitted billionaires and big businesses while ballooning the national debt by more than $1 trillion, unless he could get something extra to assist average families. To secure his vote, negotiators agreed to allow families who owe no federal income taxes to still claim up to $1,400 of the $2,000 child tax credit, up from $1,100 in the original Senate bill.
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