Marco Rubio's had a terrible year

He began as a senator admirably fighting for landmark, bipartisan reform. Now he's a predictable, pathetic panderer

Published December 12, 2013 4:48PM (EST)

Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla.                     (Reuters/Jason Reed)
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

It's hard not to enjoy Paul Ryan's subtle thrashing of Marco Rubio this morning over the latter's obviously predetermined posturing on the budget deal:

“People are going to do what they need to do,” Ryan continued, perhaps making an oblique reference to Rubio positioning himself for 2016. “In the minority, you don’t have the burden of governing, of getting things done.”

“If you’re in the minority, you don’t have to pass things. You don’t have to govern,” Ryan said.  He went on to frame his plan as a protection against another politically damaging government shutdown, saying, “We are in the majority here in the House. We’re one-third of the so-called power structure here in Washington, and we think it would be a bad idea to have two government shutdown scenarios in 2014.”...

Ryan questioned whether Rubio and other critics of the deal had even bothered to read it.

“I thought it was a little strange, because the press releases came flying out against the agreement before [Sen. Murray] and I actually even reached an agreement,” Ryan said. “This is Washington. I would prefer that people would actually read what we’re doing and see the details before forming conclusions, but I’m a big boy, I’ve been around for awhile, it doesn’t really necessarily surprise me.”

Sure, this is a little rich coming from Paul Ryan, who knows well enough that "people are going to do what they need to do." Only a couple of months ago our dear boy-scout national accountant himself was voting against the deal to reopen the government and avert default, because he could, and because 2016.

Everyone's a hypocrite, though. And that aside, everything Ryan said about Rubio is correct. And the lesson about Marco Rubio in 2013 is that he is going to do what he needs to do. Over the course of the year we've watched Rubio go from a promising potential dealmaker of some admirability to another useless troll. Someone who could've come out of this year with a major legislative accord on an issue near and dear to him instead is halfway down the slope towards becoming another pathetic Vitterian gimmick bot.

Rubio spent the first half of the year determined to move a comprehensive immigration reform package through Congress, putting his neck on the line in the process. It's fascinating to watch a Republican give a shit about something. When the typical right-wing media stories would begin circulating about, say, provisions in the immigration law giving free cell phones to "illegals," there was Marco Rubio going on the Laura Ingraham show walking through the legislative language, explaining away the myths. In parallel circumstances on issues like Obamacare or the stimulus that Rubio wouldn't support, he would've been right there, promoting the myths for personal gain. What you learn about someone like Rubio when they do have an interest in an issue and are willing to explain it rather than just pander is that they know better, if only they choose to.

Which makes Rubio's performance in the second half of the year all the more pathetic. And funny, really. It's funny watching someone do exactly what you know they're doing. In Rubio's case, this meant taking every hardline stance offered his way on everything to salvage his conservative cred, even though, as his performance negotiating the immigration bill proved, he knew better. When Ted Cruz and Mike Lee first started circulating the idea of shutting down the government if it didn't get its way on Obamacare -- the dumbest of all strategies, and one that played out in all its prophesied dumbness when, impossibly enough, it was actualized -- Rubio signed right up, to prove he was a Tuff Guy. He, too, voted against reopening the government and averting default.

By late October, with his big achievement, the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, looking dead in the House, he decided to abandon his own bill and support the House's still-stalled piecemeal approach. He went so far as to oppose taking the issue to conference, for fear that the conference report might end up looking too much like that awful Senate bill that he wrote and promoted everywhere months earlier.

And now Rubio, as Ryan was saying, is opposing this latest budget deal, issuing his stance against it approximately two seconds after Ryan and Patty Murray announced they'd reached an agreement.

If posturing against everything gives him a better chance of winning the presidential nomination in 2016, good for him. But what is exactly is left of "him" that would make him a compelling candidate in any way? He started out this year as a surprisingly interesting guy intent on achieving a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation. Now he's a walking press release announcing a no vote, a master of the indistinguishable.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Elections Florida Immigration Reform Marco Rubio Paul Ryan U.s. Senate