LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Marco Rubio addressed two thousand libertarian “Freedom Fest” delegates yesterday evening, to a buoyant reception.
Unsurprisingly, in addressing a libertarian, business-focused conference, his speech focused on small government, low taxes and cutting regulation. Recognising that the conference was made up of more ambitious young delegates with tech start ups in their eyes than corporate CEOs, he made the case that “the big companies can comply with any regulation, they can hire 1000 lawyers, the small businessman can’t – that’s why regulatory reform is really important – that’s why you’ve ended up with the government controlling the internet – though they can never explain why they need to.”
His headline and biggest applause was to the statement: “big government has always been a bad idea, in the 21st century it’s a disasterous idea.” But with his campaign wilting in the polls to the pugnacious Donald Trump (speaking today), leading with a strong stance on immigration, Rubio couldn’t shy away from adressing the burning issue on which he is seen to have the greatest weakness among the GOP base.
In a contrast to the isolationist immigration rhetoric favoured by many of his opponents, he pleaded that the road to the American dream had become “narrower”, and that the journey his parents made in America should be easier today than it was for them. He reiterated that the American Dream was for everyone – and one can only assume he means anyone in the world with the will to come to America and pursue “American Dreams”, the title of his latest book.
Looking towards Europe, he asked: “The world is going in our direction, why would we go in theirs?”, and returned to the Jefferosinan principle of America not being “a country or a President- but a people”, united in a vision and idea. In a thinly veiled jibe towards both Clinton and Bush, he said: “If ever there was a century for America it’s the 21st century. We need a new President for a new era.”
Rubio also took a strong stance on Cuba yesterday, saying he would completely reverse Obama’s Cuban policy, (which many Cuban US immigrants feel is an insult to millions of people living under one of the most pernicious Marxist regimes in history, still going strong after 60 years – 90 miles off the US coastline).
Disappointingly, of the GOP runners, only he and Ted Cruz have spoken out strongly against Obama’s détente and warm embrace of Raul Castro- and if America is to once again stand tall on the world stage under a Republican President, the travesty of Cuba needs to be dealt with finally and without compromise.
As a British conservative it’s hard for me to criticise any of the GOP candidates too harshly, they all have stronger conservative credentials than anyone in the national leadership frame in the UK, and I would roll out the red carpet for them across the pond. But if there is one (serious) candidate that should be worried about Trump and the recent polls, it’s Rubio.
Trump’s bellicose statements have ushered an anti-immigration arms race on the GOP challengers, and Rubio is seen as the most liberal immigration candidate in the race.
I have never seen more “I stand with Rand” badges hanging from distressed lapels, so Rubio was never going be the darling of this conference, but if there was one place that his laissez-faire vision on immigration would see some support it was among the libertarian collective. Of course it remains to be seen what kind of reception Trump will receive today, but at the very least he arrives to a political conference with more entrepreneurs than probably any other. Rubio would have needed to barnstorm yesterday night for it to make a difference and put him back in the running… he didnt, and unless Trump makes a herculean gaffe today, the (surprising) status quo of Trump towering seems set to continue.
After his speech I brushed past the former Senator at the lifts, having daringly cut through a barrier to avoid the bovine pace of the crowd, I thanked him for his stance on Cuba and wished him luck, the traditional Vegas salutation. He will need the gods of the dice to smile on him and punish Trump this week if he is to ever make it back to the high rollers table.