Last week, The New York Times, in an example of how a lot of the media portray Marco Rubio, referred to Rubio as the "only candidate outside the hard right to perform well in the caucuses." Over and over again, reporters at news organizations from Politico to Reuters, have described Rubio this way or called him a "moderate."
As some political commentators have noted, however, Rubio's positions are extreme on just about everything that matters to Americans, from climate change to voting rights, and he's clearly increasingly bowing to the "hard right." Yet, because he's backed by the GOP establishment - and apparently, because his backers view him, rightly or wrongly, as the only candidate who can court the extremes and still woo the middle - many in the media proclaim him to be a moderate.
But still, how is that possible?
Can someone truly be a "moderate," after all, while calling for making abortion illegal without even an exception for rape and incest? Really? After the national uproar over comments by hard right GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock in 2012, which sunk them both? Can someone truly be a "moderate" while promising to reverse the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality by putting judges on the bench who will do so, literally threatening the marriages of thousands of couples and the civil rights of millions? Obergefell v. Hodges is built on 50 years of civil rights high court decisions, from Loving v. Virginia up to the Windsor decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. It should be considered settled law as much as Brown v. Board of Education or any other civil rights decisions. Reversing it would create chaos across the country. Anyone who disagrees with that -- and promises to put justices on the court specifically for that purpose -- is surely not a "moderate."
One way that Rubio gets labeled a moderate -- and uses it to his advantage -- is by attacks from some on the right who support other candidates and who point to Rubio's many flip-flops, and in particular, the one on immigration, his most notable. He was propelled into the Senate in 2010 by tea party activists, running on their hard line, anti-government positions, but then backed immigration reform (only to flip-flop again and oppose it). So he earns the moderate label from opponents in the race like Ted Cruz and others for some of his previous positions, even though he's increasingly tacked to the far right in his Senate votes and his rhetoric.
And another way Rubio gets the label is from actual moderate Republicans who back him, who believe that he doesn't truly believe the extreme things he says, and appear to believe he just has to say them to get elected. So, Rubio can deny the moderate label to the hard right -- and take extremist positions to prove to them that he's one of them -- while enjoying the label among those who like it. That is his game.
Thus, it's not hard to understand how the GOP hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer is backing Rubio with big money even though Singer himself funded efforts to win marriage equality. Singer, who has a gay son, either doesn't see LGBT rights as a priority over electing a Republican, or doesn't believe Rubio will do what he says in trying to reverse marriage equality (perhaps even because Rubio has implied or expressed that to donors behind closed doors), or both. And, as another example, take a look at Robert George, an editorial writer for the New York Post whom I'd consider a moderate conservative and with whom I enjoy engaging in discussion on Twitter. Judging by his Twitter feed, he seems to like Rubio. He replied to my tweeting that Rubio is not a moderate, and amid our back and forth he tweeted this:
He also tweeted this:
So, George seems to believe that Rubio's extreme positions are just "tactical politics" -- as if rhetoric promoting discrimination doesn't itself have impact on people's lives, and that we shouldn't take Rubio at his word. George also pointed out in our exchange that Obergefell was only "months" old, as if civil rights decisions have a statute of limitations after they're handed down under which you can still be called a "moderate" for opposing them.
When I asked George if Donald Trump then was just being "tactical" in calling for banning Muslims from the country, since he'll likely never get such a bill passed - and, thus can actually be called a "moderate" too -- he didn't respond.
To someone like George, it appears it's acceptable for a politician to bash gays and still wear the "moderate" label, while he seems reticent to call someone who demagogues a religious minority, or calls Mexicans "rapists," a moderate. (Of course, Donald Trump is a flame-throwing outsider who, many in the GOP establishment fear, won't play ball the way Rubio will with his high-powered backers in the establishment who have many interests in Washington. So, that's actually another reason why Rubio is a "moderate" to them and Trump is not.) And George isn't really much different from many reporters in the media covering the election.
Donald Trump's rhetoric on many issues -- ironically, sometimes including gays -- is to the left of most of the other GOP candidates. But no one in the media would dare call him a "moderate" or "not out of the hard right" because some of his expressed views -- whether he truly believes them or not -- are a threat to civil rights and basic decency. But then, so are many, if not more, of the positions of Marco Rubio.