Republicans have the opportunity to define their party’s future in this election. They could choose anger, pessimism and fear. Or they could take a different path.
The party could channel that frustration and pursue true reform. It could renounce its fealty to the economic elite and its fixation with tax cuts for the wealthy.
It could instead emphasize the interests of the middle class and promote policies, not just rhetoric, that champion workers, families and small businesses. It could be the party of opportunity and optimism.
It could be the party in which the son of an immigrant bartender and maid could become president.
Sen. Marco Rubio has the potential to chart a new direction for the party, and perhaps the nation, with his message of restoring the American dream. We endorse him because he represents his party’s best hope.
That hope rests partly in the electoral calculus of the country. Republicans should have learned from 2012 that they cannot win with Republicans alone. Recent polling shows Rubio has higher favorability ratings among independents than all candidates but Ben Carson, as well as positive ratings among Latinos.
Rubio promises specific answers for the issues in these voters’ lives. “It’s been a long time since the Republican Party has talked to a single mother raising two children who is struggling at $15 or $14 or $13 an hour. It’s been a long time since the Republican Party has had an agenda that talks to students,” he told the Register’s editorial board.
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Our hope, however, does not rest solely on his ability to welcome new people to the party. We believe Rubio can inspire the base with his ideas on improving the economy, education system and social programs.
In two meetings with the editorial board, the whip-smart senator displayed an impressive grasp of public policy detail, reeling off four-point plans on foreign policy and other issues. He proposes overhauling higher education and promoting vocational training, helping workers threatened by automation acquire skills rewarded by a new economy.
Rubio would prime that new economy by embracing innovation. He would auction off portions of the wireless spectrum controlled by government, allowing freer flow of online traffic. He’d remove barriers to enable the next Uber to take off. He’d require a cost-benefit analysis of federal regulations.
The editorial board also values the executive experience, pragmatism and thoughtful policies of John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Yet most Republicans aren’t interested in rewarding a long resume this year. They want new and different.
Yes, we wish the first-term senator had greater experience. Yes, we wish he followed the lead of colleague Chuck Grassley and rarely missed a vote in the Senate.
Rubio has plenty to prove and many questions to answer if he is to unite the party’s factions.
Would he finally be the president to make the hard choices to save Social Security and Medicare and reduce debt? Or would his tax plan and proposed increases in military spending balloon budget deficits?
Does he have a better alternative than Obamacare, by creating an insurance marketplace where employer mandates are eliminated and people receive tax credits to buy policies?
Will he clarify his views on climate change and embrace the economic opportunity of a cleaner energy grid?
Can he learn from his failure in reforming immigration and persuade his party to agree to a system that balances enforcement with economic interests and humanitarian values?
Will his ideas truly help that struggling single mom or debt-laden student? Or will his loyalty to wealthy donors win out?
Will his ambition overwhelm his optimism?
At his best, Rubio offers an uplifting message of a “new American century.” He shares his compelling story and calls for a referendum on the nation’s identity.
“The fundamental question we’re being asked is: Do we want America to remain special, or do we want it to become like anybody else? For America to remain special, people have to do for their families what my parents were able to do for mine,” he told the editorial board in April.
Yet more recently, he has pandered to rising pessimism in his party. He talks gloomily about “a nation in decline,” saying President Barack Obama “has deliberately weakenedAmerica.” He wants to fight the battles of the past, such as the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.
We hope Marco Rubio and his party take a different path, one that can lead to the opportunity and optimism he so eloquently articulates.
THIS ENDORSEMENT IS THE OPINION OF THE DES MOINES REGISTER’S EDITORIAL BOARD:
David Chivers, president and publisher
Amalie Nash, executive editor and vice president for news and engagement
Lynn Hicks, opinion editor
Clark Kauffman, editorial writer
Andie Dominick, editorial writer
Brian Smith, engagement editor