Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign very much wants you to know that the senator spent what precious little free time he had over the Christmas holiday with people he loves: gun store clerks. The New York Times reported late last Friday afternoon that Rubio, according to his campaign staffers, spent Christmas Eve purchasing a firearm, because that day just happened to be “one of the only days he was home in Miami recently.” As far as panders go, this is a pretty good one – guns, freedom, and Jesus all in a neat little package. And the news dovetailed nicely with Rubio’s debate performance last week, which saw the Florida senator embrace the role of the paranoid gun-rights zealot. “I am convinced that this president, if he could get rid of the Second Amendment, he would,” he said. So Rubio went and got strapped over the holidays before Grinch Obama could take all the guns away forever.
But as it turns out, Rubio had a much darker, much more serious motivation for purchasing a Christmas gun: he’s getting ready to shoot the terrorists who might attack his family. Appearing on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday, Rubio explained that he needed to buy that gun because “I have a right to protect my family if someone were to come after us. In fact, if ISIS were to visit us, or our communities, at any moment, the last line of defense between ISIS and my family is the ability that I have to protect my family from them, or from a criminal, or anyone else who seeks to do us harm.”
This is part of a grim turn for Rubio. He’s gone from being the candidate who will launch the GOP (and the country) into a bright new century of hope and optimism, to a dour alarmist constantly warning everyone that Islamic State terrorists are going to kill us all. At last Thursday’s debate, he even tried linking his shifting stance on immigration reform to the rise of the Islamic State. “There is a radical jihadist group that is manipulating our system,” he said when asked a question about green cards for foreign workers. “Our number one priority must now become ensuring that ISIS cannot get killers into the United States.” Asked if that meant his thinking on immigration reform had changed since 2013, when he helped pass a comprehensive reform bill, Rubio said yes it had… because of ISIS. “Twenty-four months ago, 36 months ago, you did not have a group of radical crazies named ISIS who were burning people in cages and recruiting people to enter our country illegally.”
That answer was hot nonsense no matter how you parsed it. The Islamic State absolutely did exist 36 months ago and they were just as extreme and violent as they are now. And it’s not as though ISIS are pioneers in seeking to exploit the immigration system to enter the U.S. and commit terrorism – as Peter Beinart pointed out, all 19 of the 9/11 terrorists entered the country with legal visas. But Rubio’s behaving as though the link between immigration reform and national security was revealed to him by the Islamic State’s brutality.
First of all, that’s not true – terrorism and security were very much on Rubio’s mind as he worked on the 2013 reform bill. After the Boston Marathon bombing, Rubio put out a statement saying: “If there are flaws in our immigration system that were exposed by the attack in Boston, any immigration reform passed by Congress this year should address those flaws.” And to Rubio’s mind, the security measures in the bill were more than adequate. “The proposal mandates the most ambitious border and interior security measures in our nation’s history,” he said in a June 2013 speech pressing for the bill’s passage. Secondly, isn’t Rubio supposed to be the national security wunderkind of the Republican presidential field? So how does he get away with suggesting that he didn’t fully appreciate the terrorist threat when he worked on immigration reform in 2013?
So why would Rubio veer away from his optimistic message and stomp on his own natsec cred? Because there’s anxiety to be stoked! The spate of high-profile acts of terrorist violence that capped 2015 led to a predictable spike in fear among voters and a slight dip in President Obama’s approval ratings. Rubio is nudging that along, keeping people worried that the Islamic State is ready to commit horrific acts of violence upon you or your family, so get your gun and lock down the border.