Marco Rubio, once the protégé, steps out of the shadows

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This article is part of a series of profiles of the 2016 presidential candidates that will appear on the NewBostonPost in the months leading up to the nominating conventions. 

Graphic by the NewBostonPost

Graphic by the NewBostonPost

His moment arrived just days before Halloween, when the dynamic Cuban-American senator absorbed a shot on stage from his former mentor, the former governor of his home state, Jeb Bush.

Bush, who was Florida’s governor when Rubio was Speaker of the state House of Representatives, had taken an interest Rubio as early as 1998 when the younger man was running for a seat on Miami’s City Commission, and their political friendship flourished long after Bush had left the governorship. When Rubio announced his intention to take on Bush’s successor, Governor Charlie Crist, in Republican primary for United States senate in 2010, Bush was there for his young protégé, connecting him to donors and providing strategic advice. Rubio won the Senate seat in 2010.

But on that debate night last October, the former protégé had become the competition, and Bush had Rubio in his cross-hairs. The elder statesman had seen his understudy surge ahead of him in the Florida presidential GOP polls. If there was a panic switch, it almost assuredly had been flipped. And so, the former Florida Governor looked to knock Rubio out quickly by bringing up the junior senator’s voting attendance record.

But Bush’s jab had been preempted by Florida media that jumped on the Rubio attendance story like vultures on a carcass, the Florida Sun Sentinel calling for Rubio’s resignation on the eve of the October debate.

And Rubio, known as the senator who always does his homework, was prepared. Bush’s “french workweek” quip was something Rubio saw coming down Broadway.

“I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record; the only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that it’s going to help you,” Rubio said. “My campaign is going to be about the future of America; it’s not going to be about attacking anyone else on the stage.”

Rubio has shown that he can surpass an entrenched candidate like Bush. The real test is whether he can best Trump and Cruz; two outspoken candidates running hard against the Republican establishment.

Within the span of a 15-second response, Rubio pushed more political buttons than Bush had hit in the previous five months.

By draping himself in McCain, a beloved war hero and highly respected lion of the Senate, Rubio gave himself credibility; his “someone has convinced you” comment successfully painted Bush as a career politician, beholden to his handlers; his emphasis on “the future” put a positive spin on his own relative youth, indirectly portraying Bush as a thing of the past; and by chastising Bush for “attacking” others on stage, while maintaining that his campaign was focused not on his opponents but on beating Hillary Clinton, Rubio channeled the most revered Republican of all, Ronald Reagan, who made famous the 11th commandment: ‘thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

The crowd thundered with applause.

Years from now, pundits may say this was the moment Marco Rubio eclipsed Jeb Bush. But they may also say it was the moment when Rubio became the heir to Reagan’s mantle.

According to Real Clear Politics, Rubio is currently polling third nationally behind real estate mogul Donald Trump and fellow Cuban-American Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas.

Rubio has shown that he can surpass an entrenched candidate like Bush. The real test is whether he can best Trump and Cruz, two outspoken candidates who running hard against the Republican establishment.

The Cuban-American dream

Like Cruz, Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants. But, unlike Cruz, Rubio makes it a priority on the campaign trail to speak about his Hispanic roots.

“My father stood behind a small portable bar in the back of a room for all those years, so that I can stand behind this podium in front of this room and this nation. That journey from behind that bar to behind this podium; that’s the essence of the American dream.” — Rubio

Born in America to parents who were fortunate enough to have left Cuba in 1956 prior to communist dictator’s Fidel Castro’s seizure of Havana, the 44 year-old first term U.S. Senator remains firm in his anti-communist world view. Rubio has said repeatedly that, although his parents left Cuba before Castro deposed Fulgencio Batista, once Castro took power, they knew they could never return.

Rubio, born in 1971, was eight years old when his family left Miami for Las Vegas, Nevada, where his father tended bar at a hotel and his mother worked as a maid. In 1985 the Rubios returned to Miami. His father continued his career as a bartender, something Rubio is fond of mentioning.

“I remember the sounds of his keys jingling in the front door of our home, well past midnight,” Rubio recalls in a campaign ad about his father. “My father was grateful for the work he had but that wasn’t the life he wanted for his children.”

Rubio’s ad, focusing on the image of the American dream, recalls his father’s work ethic and the sacrifices he made for his family.

“My father stood behind a small portable bar in the back of a room for all those years,” Rubio adds. “So that I can stand behind this podium in front of this room and this nation.

“That journey from behind that bar to behind this podium; that’s the essence of the American dream.”

After completing high school, Rubio landed a scholarship to play football at Tarkio College in Missouri prior to transferring to Santa Fe Community College and graduating in 1993 from the University of Florida with a bachelor of science degree.

He earned a law degree from the University of Miami in 1996. Shortly thereafter, Rubio entered politics, earning a seat on the West Miami City Commission in 1998 and winning election to the Florida House in 1999. By 2003, Rubio was Republican majority leader. By 2006, he was Speaker.

Welcome to the Granite State

The year 2015 may be the first year Rubio has campaigned for himself in New Hampshire, but it’s not the first time he’s worked crowds in cities like Manchester and towns like Henniker. In 2008 Rubio had a front row seat for Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, landed a hearty endorsement from the budding Rubio, after which Rubio committed significant man hours pounding the pavement for his candidate.

In a campaign video of Rubio stumping for Huckabee in Concord, he talks about handing out Florida oranges to passersby, encouraging them to consider giving Huckabee their votes.

“We came all the way up from Florida,” he said. “We hope New Hampshire will do its part. This is not your traditional campaign. Quite frankly this is more like a movement.”

“For those of us who consider ourselves to be Reagan conservatives, Mike Huckabee is our best chance to win,” Rubio told reporters in late 2007.

Rubio’s former support of Huckabee might surprise some, who have heard some conservatives paint Rubio as the establishment’s back up plan, should Bush falter.

The characterization of Rubio as “establishment” comes mainly from those who opposed the immigration reform proposal by the so-called Gang of Eight, of which Rubio was a part.

Others are baffled by the “establishment” moniker.

Writing in the National Review in December, Jim Geraghty argued that, although conservatives are right to critique Rubio’s naivete in assuming that Democrats would agree to secure the border in exchange for regularizing the illegal immigrants who are already here, Rubio is by no means moderate.

“I’m going to keep the seat warm in the White House because I can see (Rubio) sitting there some day.” — Mike Hukabee in 2008

Rubio, Geraghty notes, has been a consistent opponent of Obamacare and has perfect, or near perfect, legislative ratings from the National Rifle Association, Citizens Against Government Waste (which calls him a “Taxpayer Super Hero”), the Family Research Council, and the National Right to Life Committee.

In light of this record, Rubio’s 2008 endorsement of the conservative Huckabee makes perfect sense.

But back in 2008, it was not just Rubio who admired Huckabee. The admiration appears to have been mutual.

Indeed, Huckabee is said to have greatly respected Rubio’s knack for policy, even crediting the young legislator with convincing him of the need to demand democratic reforms from Cuba’s communist government before lifting the U.S. embargo.

Eight years ago, Huckabee predicted a bright political future for Rubio.

“It’s a nice honor to be introduced by the future governor of Florida, Marco Rubio,” Huckabee told a Florida audience in 2008. “I’m going to keep the seat warm in the White House because I can see him sitting there some day.”

Other candidate profiles:

Kasich pitches from the heart to woo NH voters

Ben Carson’s star rose from rough beginnings

Cruz stands apart in Senate, earning cold shoulders

Paul’s greatest asset is also his biggest liability

Rick Santorum: An interview about ‘Bella’s Gift’