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Why Rubio's foreign-policy transformation matters

The obvious inconsistencies in Rubio's record are less interesting than the shift in GOP politics that led him to change direction in the first place.
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., walks off the stage after speaking at an event organized on April 28, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., walks off the stage after speaking at an event organized on April 28, 2015, in Los Angeles.
A few years ago, a Republican senator adopted a foreign policy posture completely at odds with the vision pushed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The senator expressed support for negotiations with Iran, was reluctant to launch military offensives, and endorsed the Obama administration's position on a variety of international issues. As recently as February 2013, this lawmaker's foreign policy included "moderate policies that don't differ too much from those of President Obama."
The problem, of course, is that this was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), before he made the rather radical transition to the hawkish Republican presidential hopeful, who'll give a big speech on foreign policy today at the Council on Foreign Relations. Sahil Kapur had a great report on this for Bloomberg Politics.

In May 2012, Senator Marco Rubio gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York outlining a humble foreign policy. "I don't want to come across as some sort of saber-rattling person," he said, "because I'm not." Three years later, the Florida Republican will return Wednesday to the venue for the first major foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign, where he is expected to complete a dramatic shift from moderate to ultra-hawk. The evolution began early in 2014 as Rubio was working to repair his standing with the Republican base for supporting immigration reform. Within a year and a half, he was publicly taunting America's enemies.

The key takeaway from the story isn't the obvious inconsistencies in Rubio's fairly brief record. Highlighting flip-flops is fine, as far as it goes, but far more interesting is the shift in Republican politics that led the young senator to change direction in the first place.
Ambitious national figures evolve on major issues all the time, adapting to changing circumstances and bringing themselves in line with shifting public attitudes. Hillary Clinton's new presidential campaign is arguably more progressive than her positions from recent years, at least in part because the country has changed in the Obama era and is now more receptive to these ideas.
Indeed, the Clinton example is instructive -- the Democrat probably believes embracing a progressive vision will benefit her electoral chances. Rubio, meanwhile, has seen his party continue to move further and further to the right, which in turn has driven him away from his more mainstream, more responsible foreign-policy posture and towards Cheney-esque recklessness.
I can't speak to Rubio's sincerity, and it's certainly possible that the Florida Republican genuinely believes everything he's saying, rejecting his former beliefs on international affairs. But it's also possible that Rubio, lacking any other credible choice, saw an opening on foreign policy and chose to become an aggressive hawk because that's what GOP politics demands in 2015.
The transition was made easier by the fact that Rubio doesn't seem all that familiar with the substance of foreign-policy debates and he's repeatedly struggled with the basics of international affairs.
It's easy to overhaul one's perspective on an issue when he didn't care that much about the issue in the first place.