Reform Conservatives and Foreign Policy: The Case of Rubio
Jim Antle highlights the work of Senators Lee and Paul in promoting new policy ideas inside the GOP. He also lumps in Rubio with the other two:
You don’t have to agree with all of the aforementioned proposals to see how different the Republican Party would look if Lee’s policy entrepreneurship with Paul and Rubio gained traction: Less identified with war, wiretapping, and mandatory minimum sentences; more identified with reforming government programs and cutting taxes for the non-rich.
Obviously, I’m sympathetic to much of what Lee and Paul are trying to do, and so I agree with most of what Antle says in his column. If Rubio seems out of place here, that’s because he is. While Rubio has been trying to identify himself with some domestic policy reform ideas, there is not a lot on this list that applies to him. To the best of my knowledge, Rubio has shown no interest in altering drug war policies, and hasn’t supported recent efforts at sentencing reform. He likewise seems to have no interest in reforming government surveillance practices, and he is “less identified with war” only if he is being compared to John McCain. The different Republican agenda that Antle rightly touts here is mostly one that Rubio rejects, and rejects strongly.
Rubio is representative of that part of the GOP that may be interested in changing some of its domestic policies while doing nothing to fix the huge problems in the party’s discredited and unpopular foreign policy agenda. In the absence of any clear foreign policy alternative from other reform conservatives, who don’t talk about these issues in large part because they aren’t what they work on, it is more than likely that reform conservatism will become associated with the predictably hawkish and aggressive foreign policy that Rubio has been pushing for the last few years. That will be a liability for conservative policy reform in other areas insofar as it keeps making the party politically toxic to large numbers of persuadable voters, and it will mean that one of the party’s most glaring and persistent weaknesses will continue to go unaddressed.