Saturday, February 20, 2016
By Reed Galen
Candidate: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
Location: RB Stall High School
North Charleston, South Carolina
Notables: Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC)
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
Themes: “Nowhere But Here”
“President as Defender of the Realm”
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Senator Marco Rubio brought his closing arguments to this high school gymnasium in North Charleston late on a Friday afternoon. After a rough fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, Rubio has rebounded with a redemptive debate performance last weekend and bolstered by high profiled endorsements from South Carolina’s leading political lights. The crowd was enthusiastic but lacked the (literal) religious fervor that I’d seen in Ted Cruz’s supporters earlier in the day. The event itself was well stage-managed and constructed – all the angles were worked out and provided a good platform from which Rubio could make his case.
A Benetton Ad
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley enjoys an 81% approval rating among Palmetto State residents. This is an astonishingly high number; and one well-deserved with her leadership in the past year – first after the horrific shootings at the Emmanuel AME Church and then taking the lead on removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State Capitol. She’s the daughter of Indian immigrants and the wife of a combat veteran. She served as the GOP’s spokesperson after President Obama’s State of the Union address and incurred the ire of Donald Trump when she asked the nation to not succumb to anger, no matter how good it might feel or how easy it might be. As she opened the event for Rubio, she noted that when she, Rubio, Sen. Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy stand on stage together, they look like a Benetton ad. As a child of the 1980s, I don’t care if it’s a hokey joke. It’s a good line and it described what the GOP desperately needs – solid, young conservative voices who represent the increasingly diverse country that the United States has become in the last 25 years.
Hope for the Future
Senator Tim Scott, the senior chamber’s only African American Republican member, joined the party after Haley spoke. As an alum of RB Stall High School, the venue for Rubio’s rally, he described how poorly he’d done at the school and how he’d still made his way in the world. He’d learned from his mistakes, gotten his education and now serves in the US Senate – hard to see where else in the world such humble beginnings could beget such lofty achievements. And this as much as Rubio’s spirited call for a focus on national security (see below) was the undercurrent of yesterday’s event.
As they stood there – an Indian-American woman, an African American man and the son of Cuban immigrants – they represent what we should all want to believe that the United States is really about. That humble origins should not beget someone to a lower station in life. That hard work and determination in the United States still matter. That, though we must always continue to do better, the playing field is open to those willing to step inside the lines and test their own mettle.
If Rubio, Scott and Haley represent the future of the GOP, I feel a small measure of hope for the Republican party. It is not just that they are of different races or creeds. It’s who they represent – those tens of millions of people who strive daily for a better life for themselves or their children. The American Dream is still alive, even if on life support. This election is going to be about what these three amigos offer the people – optimistic, pragmatic and forward looking conservatism, or an old-line and tired expansionist vision that leaves more people “equal” but all people with fewer chances to truly live out their dreams.
Protect and Defend
If Ted Cruz’s speech earlier in the day was steeped in fire and brimstone, Rubio was squarely focused on the tens of thousands of Navy veterans, and current active duty Air Force service members who reside in the greater Charleston area. He offered a searing critique of President Obama’s foreign policy generally and a recitation of how far the American military has fallen in funding, personnel and equipment. Rubio is the GOP field’s leading hawk on foreign policy. Others, Cruz most notably, may want to “turn the sand to glass” but Rubio has offered a consistent, cogent and logical examination of why our current standing in the world is dangerous and how it’s led to the rise of ISIS and hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into Europe.