Marco Rubio: Back to the Future

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2014 file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washingto
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2014 file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. Rubio says a comprehensive immigration bill like the one he wrote and championed _ and then watched implode _ cannot win support in Congress. Instead, the potential 2016 Republican contender argues in his new book that incremental bills are his preferred approach to dealing with the 12 million immigrants in the United States indefinitely. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The surprising disintegration of Jeb Bush's presidential campaign has opened up the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, benefitting the other candidate from Florida, Senator Marco Rubio. This is a bizarre political development because Rubio is running as the second coming of George W. Bush.

One of the most surprising things about Jeb Bush is that, despite all of his apparent advantages -- national name recognition, money and organization -- his campaign has never taken off. In mid April, 538's Nate Silver observed that Bush's unfavorability rating swamped his favorability rating. And despite his reputation as "the smart Bush," Jeb flunked his response to the obvious questions about Iraq.

As Jeb Bush withers, other candidates gather support. The latest Huffington Post Republican presidential candidate poll summary shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ahead (15.8 percent of the vote as of this writing), Jeb Bush second (13.3 percent), and Marco Rubio third (10.8 percent); the fourth and fifth place candidates are Senators Ran Paul (9.3 percent) and Ted Cruz (8.9 percent). However, the most recent national poll, YouGov/Economist shows Rubio ahead with 17 percent of the vote.

Obviously, it's too early to predict who will capture the Republican nomination at the July 2016 Cleveland convention. Each of the top candidates has a distinct approach. Marco Rubio has adopted the strategy George W. Bush used in 2000, depicting himself as a young outsider and super hawk.

At 43, Rubio is the youngest of the major Republican contenders. He was born May 28, 1971, in Miami, Florida, to Cuban-American parents (who immigrated from Cuba in 1956). Rubio plans to use his status as a millennial to differentiate himself from the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, aged 67. He also plans to use his Hispanic roots to appeal to that (traditionally Democratic) voting segment.

Nonetheless, while Marco Rubio may technically be a millennial, he doesn't represent millenial beliefs. On issue after issue -- gay marriage, decriminalizing marijuana, net neutrality, global climate change, equal rights for women, etcetera -- Rubio comes down as a doctrinaire conservative; he's more like the 68-year-old Dubya than he is similar to other politicians his own age.

Even on immigration, Rubio has clung to his dogmatic conservatism. He opposed normalizing relations with Cuba. In 2013, Marco Rubio championed immigration reform, then he abruptly switched his position. Now he says legislation will have to come on a piece-by-piece basis and border security should be the first priority.

Rubio is most like Dubya on foreign policy.

In April of 2012, Marco Rubio remarked, "George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a fantastic job over eight years." Given this level of adulation, and the fact that many of Dubya's foreign policy advisers are counseling Rubio, the Florida Senator's May 13th address to The Council on Foreign Affairs address was not surprising.

Rubio lambasted President Obama: "He demonstrated a disregard for our moral purpose that at times flirted with disdain... The deterioration of our physical and ideological strength has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office."

The Florida Senator elaborated his three "pillars" of foreign policy. The first is, "to restore American strength, my first priorities will be to adequately fund our military." (By the way, the U.S. currently spends $610 billion annually on defense; 20 percent of our budget and more than the next seven countries combined.) Rubio would also strengthen "the intelligence community" including reauthorization of The Patriot Act including the controversial bulk data collection authority (section 215).

Rubio's second foreign policy pillar is, "the protection of the American economy in a globalized world." He would approve The Trans-Pacific Partnership and related trade agreements. Rubio promised, "[As President] I will use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space."

The Florida Senator's third pillar is:

Clarity regarding America's core values. We must recognize that our nation is a global leader, not simply because it has superior arms, but also because it has superior aims. America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom, rather than simply expand its own territory.

The line in Rubio's speech that received the most attention was "America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom." Salon political writer Elias Isquith described this as Rubio's "noble lie," noting "the way it pretends the millions of human beings who lived in North America before the states were united never existed." Of course, this level of perfidy was the trademark of George W. Bush, who before the invasion of Iraq quipped, "The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom."

Time will tell if Marco Rubio survives the 2016 Republican version of demolition derby. What's clear is that despite his cherubic, youthful demeanor, Rubio is a hard-core conservative, every bit as dangerous as his idol, George W. Bush.