September 19, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is young and eloquent. But he has baffled conservatives who have no idea who the real Rubio is.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Is he the Rubio who embraced immigration reform in the Senate or the Rubio who’s dropped the issue entirely?

Is he the Rubio who talks about a positive agenda including higher education reform or is he the know-nothing who follows Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in the shutdown cul-de-sac?

Is he the Rubio who talks about how essential leading from the front is and extols human rights or is he the Rubio who doesn’t want to aid the Syrian rebels and voted against military action?

Is he the education reformer or the hard-liner who takes a swing at his mentor Jeb Bush’s efforts to work on a common core curriculum?

On foreign policy, specifically, he has baffled conservative hawks. They now wonder whether they misidentified callowness as vision and confused rhetoric with commitment. On domestic policy he’s cast a series of red meat no votes on budget deals which play to the right-wing base, yet he says he wants to change the image of the party to be more inclusive.

Whoever is advising Rubio and, more importantly, Rubio himself need to decide who he wants to be; what he believes in and is willing to fight for and whether all the zigs and zags are worth it considering the risk of alienating most everyone in some way.

He is only a freshman and he potentially has a long career ahead of him. He may be a victim of excessively high expectations. Sometimes a very strong start sets the bar too high for an ambitious newcomer to the national stage.

Rubio started out the year with a great deal of good will and high expectations from many conservatives. He seemed almost certain to run for president and fully able to start in the top tier of candidates. In September we now see him back in the pack in nearly every 2016 presidential poll. And there are real doubts about whether he should even run for president.

When asked about a presidential run, Rubio’s standard response is that if he does a good job as senator the rest will take care of itself. Right now he needs to be a better senator. In order to do that he and his advisers need to do some soul searching as to what kind of senator he wants to be. He can be a gadfly, parroting extremist and unattainable goals. Alternatively he be a legislator, advancing the conservative agenda through legislation and coalition building. He’s trying to be both, and it’s just confusing and annoying conservatives who have appreciated and even admired his work.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.