Marco Rubio, a CPAC darling, hammers Obama

Marco Rubio's opening CPAC address hammered President Obama on class warfare and inspired conservatives with his vision of the American free enterprise system.

REUTERS/Jonathan Erns
Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida addresses the American Conservative Union's annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 9, 2012.

Marco Rubio’s “magical mystery tour” brought him to the Conservative Political Action Convention, or CPAC, where a rousing oration kicked off this annual conclave of right-leaning activists, politicos and students.

Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, hung the magical moniker on Rubio’s life during his introduction of Florida’s junior senator. Cardenas, whose group puts on CPAC every year here in Washington, D.C., noted that he’d followed the arc of Rubio's political career from the Florida statehouse to the US Senate, and concluded that Rubio is “someone I know I’m going to say hello to at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue some day.”
But what may have been most magical about Rubio’s address to a ballroom of several hundred attendees was that it wasn’t particularly novel or unique – and it was still a knockout hit at almost every turn.

In other words, Marco’s standard stemwinder – the themes, story, and delivery – is a winner.

While it drew deeply on a rhetorical playbook that the Sunshine State senator has laid out in other major addresses, his talk at CPAC showed Rubio to be a playful, forceful, and – judging by audience response – effective bearer of the conservative banner.

First, there was the adroit, funny Rubio. He quipped that when he arrived for the first time on Capitol Hill, and, looked around at his storied congressional colleagues, he wondered how he, at the age of 40, had made it to these hallowed halls. Within six months, however, Rubio says he was wondering: “How did they get here?”

At a time when congressional approval hovers at 10 percent, Rubio’s twist of phrase was a particularly elegant way to highlight his own success while distancing him from an institution many Americans associate with gridlock and dysfunction.  

Then, there was the angry conservative provocateur, ripping President Obama for engaging in class warfare.

“Unlike any leader in modern American history, we are led today by a president that has decided to pit Americans against each other,” Rubio thundered. “The basic argument he is making to our nation is that the reason why some of us are worse off than we used to be is because other people are doing too well. That the only way for some of us to do better is for some people to do worse.”

From there, Rubio became the inspirational visionary. After ticking through topics such as simplifying the tax code, energy policy, Medicare, among others, he settled into his sweet spot: America as a light of the world.

“Do you know what the most powerful thing about our nation is?” Rubio said. “It’s the American example. The fact that anywhere you go in the world, people know that there is someone just like them, living here, who is doing things that they cannot.

“Do you know why people sacrifice their lives and struggle to access democracy and free enterprise around the world? Because they see what it has done here. They see in the American example what can happen when anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything they want. They see what it means. And they want that for themselves.”

Rubio, it is clear, has a powerful story.

His discussion of the American example ties up many different threads in American conservative politics: restoration of the free enterprise system; the need for stable domestic budgets in order to provide for a strong national defense; and recollections of the quality of the American character and the American family as the bedrock of the entire enterprise.

But will it be a schtick that takes him to the White House? Conservatives will have to wait until at least 2016 to find out.

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