Jacob Heilbrunn comments on the political significance of Marco Rubio’s selection of Jamie Fly as an adviser:
The more salient point, for now, is that Rubio is clearly staking out his territory—no enemies to the right when it comes to foreign affairs. His move will likely nudge other possible candidates to sign on neocons as well as a proleptic campaign defense measure.
Heilbrunn may be right about the effect this could have on other possible candidates’ decisions, but it is also possible that Rubio is boxing himself in by choosing to identify himself so completely with neoconservatives and hard-liners in the party. Since he first arrived in the Senate, Rubio has been going out of his way to associate himself with McCain and Graham to the point that he has become something of a caricature of a Republican interventionist. This could be proof that “the neocons appear to be more firmly in control than ever,” as Heilbrunn says, but it may also be that Rubio is miscalculating and letting his ideology get the better of him.
If he aspires to be a competitive presidential nominee in three years, Rubio is doing things all wrong. That’s fine by me, but it makes me wonder what he could be thinking. A future Republican nominee needs to be able to claim credibly that he does not represent the second coming of George W. Bush. Right now, Rubio seems to working overtime to confirm that this is exactly what he wants to be. At this point, it’s probably too late for him to stop and reverse course, but it’s interesting that he doesn’t even seem to be aware of the danger. Someone might object that no one will care about the next nominee’s similarities to Bush, but Republican leaders have consistently underestimated how damaging Bush’s legacy is for them. It may not be as much of a problem as it was in 2012, but it will still be a real problem for years to come. If Republicans think the close resemblance to Bush won’t matter, they are kidding themselves.
When a presidential candidate has identified himself too closely and completely with neoconservatives in his first presidential campaign, he has so far been unsuccessful. There aren’t many examples to cite, but the examples that exist are worth reviewing. In 2000, McCain was clearly the neoconservatives’ preferred candidate, but except for a victory in New Hampshire his campaign was mostly a flop. While Romney had many neoconservative advisers all along and campaigned accordingly, it was Pawlenty in 2011 who desperately sought to be regarded as the most reliably hawkish, democratist, and interventionist candidate. Pawlenty had been a loyal McCain booster throughout 2007-08, and in at least some ways sought to be the McCain-like candidate of the 2012 cycle. He fared even worse than McCain had in 2000. Of course, Pawlenty’s campaign didn’t fail solely or even primarily because of his foreign policy views. However, his posturing on these issues reflected his eagerness to invest Republican and movement conservative elite opinion with far more electoral significance than it possessed. Rubio has been making a similar mistake of catering to the same elite opinion with apparently little regard for how his views are being received by rank-and-file Republicans.
Rubio is probably fooling himself if he thinks he’s improving his political fortunes with these moves. Republican nominees have been hawkish internationalists to one degree or another for decades, but there doesn’t seem to be much advantage in being perceived as the neoconservative candidate in the primaries. A successful Republican candidate isn’t going to make active enemies of hard-liners and neoconservatives, but he isn’t going to limit himself to being their factional candidate, either. Rubio is already becoming just such a factional candidate. As for a future general election, Bushism is a proven loser, and Rubio is unwisely betting that returning to it will bring him success.