Can Marco Rubio Remix the Republican Party?

As Marco Rubio tries to juggle his conservative base and more centrist voters, he'll face a two-front media battle. Whether he likes it or not, when Rubio announces his candidacy, he needs to take another line from "Clique" to heart: "Everything I do need a news crew's presence."
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Co-authored by Mike Sard

On Tuesday, Politico's Mike Allen uncovered a hidden gem: Senator Marco Rubio (R.-FL) released a Spotify playlist of his favorite songs, spanning from Tupac and Kanye West to Coldplay and Swedish House Mafia. Entitled "What I'm Currently Listening To," Rubio's playlist may not have wowed anybody on its musical merits. But the playlist was aptly named from a political perspective: In the wake of the 2012 election, the Republican Party finds itself 'currently listening to' a conservative base that's drifting further right--and an electoral map that's drifting to the left. How can Republicans bridge this gap?

Here's another question: can analyzing song lyrics from the likes of Jay-Z actually shed light on Marco Rubio's platform for the Republican Party? Presumably Rubio released this playlist to connect with young voters. Is there any use working backwards and connecting this playlist to Rubio's evolving political platform?

It's a fun exercise and perhaps something more: If we dissect Marco Rubio's song choices--much like he can expect opposition research groups to scrutinize his every move if he launches a 2016 presidential campaign--we can try to fill in some of the gaps in his policies and biography. And we all know these gaps will fill in a heartbeat should he run for president.

Without further ado, here's Marco Rubio's remix of the Republican Party, expressed through the preposterous template of a Spotify playlist.

On Presidential Aspirations

Do it for your people
Do it for your pride
Never gonna know if you never even try
Do it for your country.

-The Script feat., "Hall of Fame" (2012)

Yes I can, doubt that I leave, I'm running with this plan
Pull me, grab me, crabs in the bucket can't have me
I'll be the president one day.

-Flo Rida, "Good Feeling" (2011)

Just as Flo Rida doubts he'll ever leave the Top 40, we doubt Rubio will leave the presidential conversation. Vaulting to prominence after his senate victory in 2010, Rubio tells a compelling story. His parents are Cuban immigrants; the contrasting opportunities they've had in communist Cuba and democratic America are the foundation for Rubio's conservative platform of limited government, free enterprise, and family values.

From his presence on Romney's vice presidential shortlist to the widespread conjecture right after the 2012 election ended, Rubio is primed for a 2016 run. And when asked directly, he gave the closest thing to a yes that a politician can provide: he essentially said 'maybe.'

On Immigration

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm going to make this place your home.

-Phillip Phillips, "Home" (2012)

Just last week, we saw Marco Rubio announce a bipartisan immigration reform proposal that was a dramatic departure from the Republican stance just two years ago. Calling for a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers is a remarkable step--but can Rubio appease fears from his base that it amounts to amnesty? Are promises for heightened border security, back taxes, sanctions, and a prolonged probationary period before citizenship enough to appease conservatives? Are these same promises too stringent to keep the White House on board? The Republican Party will try and strike a balance between the voters it needs to keep and the voters it needs to pull in.

On Religion

Don't you worry, don't you worry, child.
See Heaven's got a plan for you.
Don't you worry, don't you worry now.

-Swedish House Mafia, "Don't You Worry Child" (2012)

Bless the Lord, O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name
Jesus, I'll worship Your holy name.

-Matt Redman, "10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)" (2011)

In his speeches and interviews, Marco Rubio makes constant reference to Americans' "God-given rights," stressing in his Republican National Convention Speech "that God is the source of all we have." To downplay his childhood Mormon stint that came to light last year, Rubio has been all the more eager to reassert his faith, particularly in a Catholic context.

If there's one song that can carry pro-life undertones and gather tens of thousands of potential young voters under one roof (albeit for a rave, not a rally) it's "Don't You Worry, Child" by Swedish House Mafia. Certainly, no song blasts the message that "Heaven's got a plan for you" any louder.

On Free Enterprise

Me turn that 62 to 125, 125 to a 250
250 to a half a million, ain't nothin' nobody can do with me
Now who with me? ¡Vámonos! Call me 'Hova' or 'Jefe'.

-Kanye West feat. Big Sean & Jay-Z, "Clique" (2012)

For Rubio, there is nothing more fundamentally American than the virtuous cycle of business creation. This Jay-Z lyric speaks to an American blend of free market entrepreneurialism that Rubio champions. (Rubio has even tweeted Jay-Z lyrics before). And '¡Vámonos!' wouldn't be the worst campaign slogan.

As far as Rubio is concerned, whether you call Him 'Hova' or 'Jefe,' God dictates our rights and liberties, while government's job is to uphold them--and nothing more. Presenting limited government that fosters free enterprise as a form of faith could be a viable presidential message. In his convention speech, Rubio asserted "that family is the most important institution in society"--not government. If Rubio can stress this portion of the Republican message without allowing the right-wing stance on particular family values to distract from it, the platform could broadly resonate with voters.

On Party Loyalty

Ain't nobody f---ing with my
Clique, clique, clique, clique, clique
Ain't nobody fresher than my muthaf---ing
Clique, clique, clique, clique, clique
As I look around, they don't do it like my
Clique, clique, clique, clique, clique
And all these bad b----es, man, they want the...
They want the... they want the...

-Kanye West feat. Big Sean & Jay-Z, "Clique" (2012)

But from the very same song, we see some of the forces that could stifle this push for broader electoral appeal. Rubio can only veer so far from his 'clique'--the Tea Party movement that helped usher him into office via an endorsement in 2009. The whole Republican Party is similarly beholden to its conservative base.

While Kanye intended for the ellipses in the lyric above ("they want the... they want the...") to be considerably more profane, instead pencil in the social issues that the conservative base holds dear--and consider the distraction they pose for a Republican message that prioritizes economic concerns and downsized government. Rubio's approach to reconciling this? Hold true to conservative social values, but make sure they take a backseat when they put a broader initiative at risk. His desire to keep gay marriage from becoming "a central issue" and a "landmine" in the immigration reform debate is one such example.

On Gun Control (and Media Scrutiny)

Yeah! He found a six-shooter gun
In his dad's closet, with the box of fun things...
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,
You better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,
You better run, better run, faster than my bullet.

-Foster the People, "Pumped Up Kicks" (2010)

Foster the People's hit song is written from the perspective of a mentally ill youth who has homicidal fantasies about opening fire in his school. On the one hand, the songwriter penned the tune to draw awareness to the confluence of mental illness and gun violence. On the other, the lyrics are set to an unwaveringly upbeat and catchy melody that masks that deeper meaning--and left the track destined for radio airtime and dance floors around the country.

It seems the bubblegum melody tricked many a hipster into not paying close enough attention--and Marco Rubio took the bait too (or at least, perhaps, the staffer who was tasked with putting this Spotify playlist together). As Rubio tries to walk the line between post-Newtown public opinion and his vehement opposition to Barack Obama's gun control proposals, he has no desire to draw more attention to the issue. After Mike Allen cited Rubio's Spotify Tuesday morning, "Pumped Up Kicks" was removed from the playlist--before hastily being re-posted.

But the story had already shifted: the removal of the song created more buzz than its inclusion ever had. It's rather easy to imagine a Rubio staffer panicking and taking the song down--only to have Rubio insist it go back up. The song had been censored on the radio after the Newtown massacre; the songwriter, by his own admission, said it came with "political content attached to it." Removing it was an implicit admission that such political content was attached to this playlist in the first place. Rubio understands the precarious balance: sure, listening to Tupac and Calvin Harris-- and sharing that interest with a new social media tool--resonates with younger voters. But once an action is politicized--in this instance, by briefly removing a song about gun violence--the floodgates are open. It injects the playlist with a political self-consciousness.

Is this fair? Probably not. Will this media scrutiny amplify a thousand-fold come 2016? You bet. All sorts of considerations come into play; for example, the following line of questioning can be expected. Did Rubio adequately represent his roots? The answer is probably yes: Flo Rida is from Florida--put his first and last name together if you don't believe it--while Carlos Vives' "Fruta Fresca" (1999) and Pitbull's "Bon, Bon" (2010) are Spanish-language songs. Did he acknowledge the female portion of the electorate? Absolutely not: none of the 16 artists is female, and some of the songs that do refer to women do so in a derogatory way.

If Rubio runs in 2016, one thing is for sure. Anything with his name on it--a speech, a birth certificate, a donation, a playlist, a tweet-- will be scrutinized from every possible political angle. And as he tries to juggle his conservative base and more centrist voters, he'll face a two-front media battle. Whether he likes it or not, when Rubio announces his candidacy, he needs to take another line from "Clique" to heart: "Everything I do need a news crew's presence."

Ian Bremmer is the founder and president of Eurasia Group, where Mike Sard is currently a researcher in the Global Macro practice.

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