Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the Freedom Summit on May 9, 2015 in Greenville, S.C. 
Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty

Rubio looks backward, again, for his policy agenda

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has the advantage of being the one Republican presidential candidate that most pundits already assume will win. In the prediction markets, the far-right senator yesterday overtook Jeb Bush as the most likely GOP nominee.
But problems lurk below the surface. Rubio’s third-quarter fundraising, which his campaign exaggerated a bit to the press, was lackluster and far below his top rivals’ totals. Politico added over the weekend that his campaign operation – which is based in D.C., unlike most candidates’ teams – hasn’t yet invested much in the way of time or resources in early-voting states.
Perhaps the Florida senator has a strong policy agenda that can propel his campaign forward? Actually, the opposite is true. Mother Jones took a look at Rubio’s newly unveiled energy policy.
Marco Rubio sidestepped the challenges posed by climate change as he laid out his campaign’s energy policy Friday afternoon at a manufacturing plant in Salem, Ohio. Instead, the Florida senator and GOP presidential hopeful called for expanding oil and gas development, weakening environmental protections, and rolling back President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change, which Rubio characterized as an illegal intrusion into the market by overreaching government agencies.
Rubio’s proposals amounted to a conservative policy wish list. He’d dismantle Obama’s carbon pollution rules for existing power plants, change Department of Energy grants for new energy research, and make it harder for environmental groups to sue the government.
For a candidate who’s almost preoccupied with rhetoric about the “future” and his willingness to break with old, 20th-century ideas, Rubio’s approach to energy policy is almost comically stale – the Republican wants to drill everywhere, pretend the climate crisis doesn’t exist, and scrap safeguards intended to protect the public.
Jon Chait was even less charitable, describing the Rubio plan as “terrifyingly stupid.”
Chait’s piece is worth reading in its entirety – he highlights several of Rubio’s glaring errors of fact and judgment – but I was particularly struck by the conclusion:
On energy, and many other issues, Rubio’s policy vision – like that of his fellow Republicans – is to overturn Obama-era reforms and restore Bush-era policy priorities. Given the unpopularity of the Bush administration, this approach has a natural political drawback. Rubio’s solution to the dilemma is to use his youth as a framing device that allows him to present his Bush-era policies as “new” and Clinton’s Obama-era policies as “old.” Rubio uses this method in every speech, including his energy speech. […]
It seems bizarre to frame Rubio’s plan to reject the scientific consensus and redouble American reliance on fossil fuels as “new,” and to mock a plan to transition to emerging green energy sources as “old.” But the entire premise of Rubio’s candidacy is that the only thing standing between the Republican Party and a restoration of its long-standing policy agenda is a young face that calls its ideas new.
Quite right. Of the 15 Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination, the contradictions surrounding the junior senator from Florida are arguably the most glaring.
On health care, social issues, national security, and energy, Rubio is determined to roll back the clock, which leads him to assure voters that he has a forward-thinking, futuristic agenda. Simultaneously, Rubio presents himself as being outside “the political class,” despite his record of being a career politician, and reassures voters he’s “not of the Senate,” despite the fact that he’s spent the last-half decade in the Senate chamber.
Now he seriously wants voters to see the Bush/Cheney energy policy as “new,” and the embrace of new, renewable energy technologies as “old.”
As we discussed a month ago, I realize that for many political observers – left, right, and center – the far-right senator is the safe bet for the Republican presidential nomination. But perhaps it should give pundits pause that the narrative he’s created for himself is demonstrably ridiculous.