Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told donors Monday morning that he is running for president in 2016 and that he is “uniquely qualified” to be the GOP nominee, a campaign source in Miami confirmed to msnbc.
Rubio is set to officially announce his campaign for president Monday at 6 p.m. in his hometown of Miami, adding his name to a growing list of official candidates that includes Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on the GOP side and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side.
Rubio made his name in 2010 by knocking out moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s senate primary, an upset that showcased the growing power of the tea party movement ahead of the GOP’s blowout midterm election. He’s widely considered a top tier contender for the Republican nomination, but will face plenty of tough competition, including from fellow Floridian and onetime political mentor Jeb Bush.
Here’s what you need to know about Rubio heading into the primaries.
1. He has a compelling biography. Rubio is scheduled to declare his candidacy in front of the Freedom Tower, where Cuban exiles who fled the Castro regime were processed when they reached America. This isn’t a coincidence: Rubio’s parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba a few years before communist dictator Fidel Castro took power and worked in hotels during his childhood, his father as a bartender and his mother as a maid. His speeches lean heavily on this son-of-immigrants-made-good story, with Rubio often recounting how his parents’ hard work enabled him to live the American dream of going to college and law school before moving up local and state government in Florida en route to his 2010 senate victory. He’ll often mention his $100,000 student loan bill that he only recently paid off and his memoirs take note of his salary at various private sector jobs as he moved up the ranks from rookie attorney to making $300,000 at a politically connected Florida law firm.
At 43, he’s also the youngest 2016 hopeful. One area where his age shows relative to the GOP field: He’s a hip-hop fan who counts Tupac and N.W.A. among his favorite artists and has quoted Jay-Z on the senate floor.
2. He wants to be the wonk candidate. Over the last two years, Rubio has tried to distinguish himself as the policy guy in the emerging presidential field. To this end, he’s hooked up with a group of right-leaning think tankers and columnists who like to call themselves “reform conservatives” and play up their willingness to put forward proposals that directly address kitchen table economic issues like wage stagnation. Ask him about education, for example, and you’ll get a blizzard of proposals, from new student loan repayment plans to accrediting online universities.
Don’t confuse “reform conservatism” with progressivism, though. Rubio’s signature proposal right now is a sweeping tax cut that would cost up to $4 trillion over 10 years. His plan would provide new tax credits to some middle class families, but also dramatically slash taxes for the ultra-rich. Among other changes, it would eliminate both capital gains taxes and the estate tax, meaning someone like Mitt Romney would pay virtually nothing in taxes while the Romney sons would pay literally nothing when they inherited his millions. By contrast, recent proposals from the White House and top Democratic lawmakers would raise taxes on the rich in order to finance their own middle class tax credits without expanding the deficit.
Ironically, the bill that was supposed to be the biggest policy achievement of Rubio’s time in the senate is now his chief liability in the GOP primaries. In 2013, he worked with Democrats on a bipartisan bill that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, revamped the legal immigration system, instituted new border security measures, and cracked down on illegal hiring. The bill passed with 68 votes in the senate, but conservative opposition to its legalization component killed it in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and dealt a major blow to Rubio’s standing with the right. He’s since renounced his own plan in favor of a piecemeal approach that Latino and immigration groups are highly skeptical can work.
Outside of his brief bipartisan turn on immigration, Rubio has largely hewn to the conventional conservative line on major issues. He’s pro-life, anti-gay marriage, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and doesn’t believe the scientific consensus on climate change.
3. He’s a hawk. Like President Obama did during his own short stint in the senate, Rubio has spent much of his time in Washington building up his foreign policy resume. He tends to side with the party’s traditional hawks on most major issues (think John McCain) and generally favors a robust U.S. role in international affairs. Take Syria, for example, where Rubio was an early proponent of arming so-called moderate rebels (a position Obama initially rejected but was shared by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) in order to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad and hopefully stem the rise of more radical groups like the Islamic State.
Like any good politician from immigrant-heavy Florida, Rubio pays a particular amount of attention to Central American and Cuban policy as well. He’s a strong opponent of Obama’s decision to open relations with Cuba and frequent critic of alleged human rights and civil liberties abuses by Venezuela’s socialist government.
Rubio has argued that his fluency in foreign policy is one of his biggest advantages in the 2016 contest. Many of his rivals, including Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, and Bush have only served as state executives, a job that doesn’t touch as much on international issues. Walker has already stumbled on questions regarding Middle East policy, lending some credibility to Rubio’s theory.
4. He could win Rubio’s star faded after his immigration work strained his relationship with the tea party activists who helped power his senate victory. Compared to many of his more polarizing rivals, however, polls suggest he’s still relatively well liked within the party and has significant room to grow his support. In today’s wild west of campaign finance rules, candidates only need one super-rich backer to hang around a race waiting for an opening and Rubio already has his billionaire in Miami car magnate Norman Braman. If Bush struggles to seal the deal, Rubio could be a tempting option for establishment Republican donors looking for a mainstream alternative with plausible appeal to the conservative base and general election voters alike.