The rise of Marco Rubio has many now discussing him as a looming threat for Democrats, poised to overtake the role as an attractive moderate Republican presidential contender. But such proclamations do little to consider the Florida senator's rabidly right-wing record hiding right in plain sight behind his more measured rhetoric.
As far as back as May, outlets like the New York Times declared Rubio as the biggest general election threat, claiming that "an incipient sense of anxiety is tugging at some Democrats."
After this week's debate -- less than two weeks after Rubio effectively took down his one-time mentor, Jeb Bush, onstage and corralled some hesitant big money donors into his corner -- reports rushed in of Democrats, once again, loudly projecting their fears of a potential Rubio-Clinton showdown.
Former White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer penned a CNN op-ed saying as much. “There is no question that Rubio is the Republican that Democrats fear most.”
"Marco Rubio Is Hillary Clinton’s New Enemy No. 1," read a headline at The Daily Beast.
Rubio's supposedly "moderate" tone, his purple state background and his rags to complicated riches personal narrative may prove too compelling for the Democrats to effectively overcome in November, the general thinking goes.
But as Rubio's star rises and rabid right-wing Republicans begin to finally let go of their rage over his traitorous immigration expedition, he is now making moves to firmly placate the base by shaking off the image of a moderate he so carefully crafted years ago.
"Marco Rubio is the conservative's conservative," his campaign manager said the day after the debate, fending off attacks from Ted Cruz.
His latest effort has even gone so far to assuage the concerns of conservatives that Erick Erickson applauded it as a "home run." What did Rubio do? He named his campaign's director of faith outreach, Eric Teetsel, a prominent evangelical who warns that LGBT Americans will "suffer" if they don't find "a better way."
As the Huffington Post notes, Teetsel's hiring "signals a heightened appeal to evangelical voters" -- an especially impactful voting bloc in Iowa. But based on his existing record, Rubio should have no worries appealing to the most right-wing voters in his party as he holds some of the most extreme positions on issues like abortion, marriage equality and climate change:
Rubio has long denied that human activity contributes to climate change. "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," he said during a 2014 ABC News interview.
Rubio has repeatedly voted against ending tax breaks for oil companies and has said he will reverse President Obama'sr ejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline:
In his 2015 memoir setting up his presidential run, Rubio wrote that "at a time when the American family is threatened as never before, redefining it away from the union of one man and one woman only promises to weaken it as a child-rearing, values-conveying institution."
Rubio even scapegoated same-sex couples with the failure of his attempt at immigration reform. “If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I'm gone. I'm off it,” he told CNN at the time.
Rubio voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, meant to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination in the workplace. Asked why he couldn't vote to ensure protections for all Americans, Rubio said, "I'm not for any special protections based on orientation."
Of course, Rubio is more concerned that religious homophobes are being targeted for discrimination.
“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he explained in May, “because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater. So what’s the next step after that, after they’re done going after individuals? The next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. That’s a real and present danger.”
The freshman senator signed on to cosponsor a 2013 bill banning abortions after 20 weeks but allowing for exceptions in the case of rape and incest. In 2015, moving further to the right ahead of the Republican primary, Rubio cosponsored a similar bill, this time without an exemption for cases of incest and imposing a mandatory 48 hour waiting period for woman who is raped, during which she must seek counseling or medical treatment.
And Rubio's not shy about boasting about his extreme anti-choice position. He explained his harsh stance on exceptions for rape to CNN back in August this way: "I personally believe you do not correct one tragedy with a second tragedy."
And as the keynote speaker at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s 2012 gala, Rubio said, “the right to life is a fundamental one that trumps virtually any other right that I can imagine.”
During the first GOP presidential debate, Rubio even slipped in this apparent endorsement of so-called personhood protections for fetuses when pressed about his abortion stance by moderator Megyn Kelly:
What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection. In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States.
And let me go further. I believe that every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws, whether they can vote or not. Whether they can speak or not. Whether they can hire a lawyer or not. Whether they have a birth certificate or not. And I think future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave them a chance to live.