"Once sworn into office, the victors reverted to type. In their view, apparently, the ends justified the means."
So said Ronald Reagan, speaking in March of 1975. But it could be Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, in the summer of 2009.
Rubio, the 38-year-old former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, is running against Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in a primary for the Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Mel Martinez.
Rubio has been billed as the Republican answer to Barack Obama. But at a time when some are aching for the second coming of the Gipper, the young lawyer is more believable evoking our 40th president.
Rubio is fond of the March 1975 speech in which Reagan firmly proclaimed his conservative principles: fiscal responsibility, small government, and law and order.
As Reagan timelessly emphasized: "A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers. … And if there are those who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let them go their way."
Rubio would have Crist go away after his term as governor is up, without adding a Senate seat to his resume. Rubio has been critical of Crist for buying into the federal "stimulus" package earlier this year. Rubio recently Tweeted: "Florida unemployment now highest since 1975. The stimulus package my opponent supported is really working well, isn't it?" Rubio talks about "meaningful tax reform … putting government in its proper role … (and) incentivizing the innovator." He insists that "unresolved problems get harder and harder to solve," which is at the heart of why he's so adamantly against the bad Band-Aid of the stimulus.
Rubio exudes a candid self-possession that can be rare in a politician. And substance accompanies his Reagan quotes. While retiring senator Mel Martinez, who was born in Cuba, cast a vote for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Rubio has no interest in playing on his heritage (his parents are Cuban exiles). He's an American and has no interest in hyphens or contributing to balkanization. He's on the right of conservative Jeb Bush on immigration, and speaks with a moral confidence on world affairs, despite his youth. Shortly after the election uprisings in Iran, Rubio bemoaned the president's refusal to speak with the same kind of vigor on behalf of the Iranian people.
And yet this hasn't added up to support from Rubio's own party
"I never thought I'd see the day when a conservative was the insurgent in a Republican primary," Rubio says. The powers that be in the GOP most notably the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which endorsed Crist almost immediately after he announced he was running for the seat - have simple, cynical reasons for supporting Crist.
Florida's governor knows how to raise money, and his clout and name recognition will guarantee that the Senate seat stays in Republican hands at a time when Republicans have only 40 seats, with six incumbents soon to retire.
Rubio is 22 points behind Crist in the best-case scenario polling for next summer's Republican Senate primary. But that can be considered good news for Rubio: he was 46 points behind in May.
That's the argument of Rubio adviser Pat Shortridge, who in a recent memo wrote: "While there is still one year and five days to go until Primary Election Day, the numbers have been narrowing over the past 90 days without the Rubio campaign running a single advertisement and despite Marco's relatively low name identification. The tortoise keeps gaining on the hare."
And while it won't win you an election, Rubio's hair isn't bad, either. (These things can help.) And if he can keep running and manage to drown out the rumors that he's not in it to win it you will be talking about him a year from now, wherever you live.
And, yes, the Obama comparisons will only increase a young pol who surges from behind to take out an "inevitable" establishment candidate. (National Review borrows from the president with a Rubio cover on our current issue with the tag line "Yes, He Can.")
"I'm not Don Quixote here," Rubio makes clear. "This campaign embodies everything you're hearing at the town halls."
Rubio is not running just against Crist, but also against a welfare-state mentality, as Americans flock to town-hall meetings to oppose a government takeover of health care. "We're facing the false choice to surrender liberties," he tells me. It's a reminder Republicans need to hear as much as anyone.