For all the heat he has taken this year both from the anti-immigration reform right and conservative wonks (both for backing the shutdown and inconsistency on Syria), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) still delivers one heck of a speech. He followed a morning of speeches from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and even a couple of senators not running for president — Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Tim Scott of (R-S.C.). Yet still, his was the most positive and inspirational, tapping into his immigrant experience and foreign policy strength.
If there were hard feelings left over from the immigration fight the crowd did not evidence it. He began with a simple, positive note that no other speaker had sounded: For all America’s troubles, he would not trade it for any other. It’s a small but telling point. Republicans are so negative about President Obama they often neglect to express positive feelings about America itself and its future. He implored the crowd, “We are literally on the verge if we make a few right decisions another American century.”
He continued his usual themes — big government is the enemy of the little guy and suppresses growth and innovation. He accused the president of sowing divisiveness. “This disunity they have created in our country is unacceptable and it is holding us back from obtaining that American century.”
The bulk of his speech was devoted to foreign policy. He was more detailed (from Ukraine to the South China Sea to Venezuela) than others and he also made an effort to tie it to economic growth. He reasoned that if Obamacare is bad for the economy so is international instability and totalitarianism. It is a theme Republicans would do well to develop further. He called out the president — who likes to fancy himself as a “realist” — for self-delusion, declaring, “We do not have the luxury of seeing the world the way we hope it would be. We must see it the way it is.” He blasted Obama for egotistically imagining his speechifying and mere presence could affect other countries; and while he cautioned that we can’t and shouldn’t wade into every fight he counseled, “There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free peoples to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism . . That is ours. The United nations cannot do this. In fact they can’t do anything.”
Without American engagement, he counseled a slew of unimaginable horrors including a North Korea capable of blowing up the West Coast of the U.S. will be probable. He called for “seriousness” in foreign policy rooted in our values. And he slapped down the president for comparing himself to Ronald Reagan, who also talked to our enemy. But unlike Obama, Rubio argued, he never ceded the moral ground and continued to condemn their behavior. “We cannot ignore the reality of who we are,” he explained.
In his closing remarks he worked his way around, if not to immigration reform, then to his own immigrant experience. Recalling his father whose greatest joy was seeing his children succeed. “Don’t fall into the trap . . .of taking for granted what we have in this country,” he warned. We have, he argued, we have all the tools we need for a strong economy and to secure a safer and freer world; all we need, he offered, is leadership from the White House.
Rubio, in a crowded field, could capture the party’s heart and imagination. Whether he will also demonstrate the gravitas and record that will move people to select him as their nominee remains to be seen. But my, can that man talk.
You can watch the entire speech here.