In an unlikely brain spasm for a person with my political proclivities, I’ve recently been thinking about Senator Marco Rubio. Every so often, Rubio toys with the idea of growing a spine. And it seems to me that, if he did go full vertebrate, Rubio could actually have an impact—on his own career and potentially on the Republican Party.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Rubio fan. Based on his performance so far, I fully subscribe to the widely quoted philosophy that, if your life depends on Marco Rubio developing a spine, you’re already dead. Rubio specializes in changing his position: He very publicly flip-flopped on immigration reform, on healthcare, even on his own intention/not intention to run for re-election—to name just a few examples of his whichever-way-the-wind blows approach to controversial subjects.
But, even as an observer from the other side of the political spectrum, I can see how Rubio has the potential to be the new Republican maverick—taking on the legacy of Sen. John McCain [who, it should be noted, has had his own inconsistencies]. In a era when virtually all Republican Congressmen and Senators have knuckled under to Donald Trump’s antics, immoral views, lies, and degradations of democracy, a principled dissenter could be a game changer. Even an unprincipled dissenter could be helpful: Even if Rubio made some out-of-the -right wing-mainstream moves as a way of advancing his political star—rather than out of a nobler impulse to pull the Republican Party and American democracy back from the abyss we are approaching—the effect could be salutary.
Recently, Rubio had a chance to make a whole new name for himself, one that could turn his spine-free image around and perhaps move the needle among other Republicans. After the Parkland mass shooting, Rubio—courageously, I must admit—showed up at the town hall meeting called by Parkland survivors. Just being there put him one rung higher on the courage index than almost any other Republican.
But then it happened: One of the high-school students from Parkland asked Rubio ,” Would you be willing to make a pledge that you will no longer accept money from the NRA?” Rubio’s answer had the potential to make him a Republican hero to the majority of Americans who have been shown to favor sensible gun laws. As the Senator from Florida, where the Parkland shooting took place, Rubio was in a unique position to take a leadership role in changing attitudes toward the NRA and gun culture.
All he had to do was to say, “Yes.”
He didn’t. Instead, he asserted that he takes political contributions from the NRA not because those dollars influence his views, but because his views just happen to coincide with those of the NRA.
End of opportunity.
And that’s unfortunate—for all of us, as well as for someone as ambitious as Rubio. We’ve already seen him make an attempt to run for President. Given the groundswell of popular support—on both sides of the aisle—that a disavowal of gun money [not guns themselves, of course] could generate, Rubio might have been seen as the most courageous Republican since Senator Howard Baker and other Republicans who pushed for impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon. Perhaps he could have even ridden that [admittedly] limited stand for integrity all the way to the White House.
Silly me. Sure, every so often, Sen. Marco Rubio toys with the notion of exhibiting some political fortitude. But toying is just that—a game of make-believe. Instead of standing up and taking an adult position that could propel him to political stardom, Rubio does what Rubio inevitably does—flip flops on yet another issue, pretends that he never said what he said, and solidifies his reputation as as a spineless hack and slave to the Republican Party line.