Marco Rubio’s most glaring vulnerability in the Republican primary is his previous, since-retracted support for comprehensive immigration reform. But other vulnerabilities exist. Breitbart News is publicizing a 2008 video in which an even-more-boyish-looking Rubio can be seen advocating cap-and-trade. Conservatives are responding with what they profess to be shock.
But in 2008, lots of Republicans favored cap-and-trade. John McCain — who, for those who have forgotten, was the Republican presidential nominee — endorsed it. So did his running mate, Sarah Palin. (See Palin affirming her support at 34:00 of her debate with Joe Biden.) Newt Gingrich did, too. Cap-and-trade was a policy with Republican roots, the thinking conservative’s alternative to command-and-control regulation, which would harness the power of markets and apply it to control an undeniable externality.
But there are fewer thinking conservatives these days, and they have gotten much less thoughtful. Yesterday’s mainstream Republican stance is today’s socialist plot. So Rubio’s spokesman is heatedly denying the accusation — “Charlie Crist made the same allegation in 2010 and it was debunked then,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant emailed Breitbart. “Fact is that Marco stood up to Charlie Crist to defeat cap-and-trade” — even though he is saying the very thing his spokesman denies on video:
Florida should position itself for what I believe is inevitable, and that is a federal cap-and-trade program. Florida should do everything it can to be an early complier so it can access early compliance funds and so that it can help influence what that cap-and-trade looks like at the federal level. So I’m in favor of giving the Department of Environmental Protection a mandate that they go out and design a cap-and-trade or a carbon-tax program and bring it back to the legislature for ratification some time in the next two years.
Do Republicans have serious grounds to fear that Rubio would turn around and support cap-and-trade if elected? Of course not. Rubio is a party man. He will do what Republicans want.
But being a party man is also Rubio’s liability. In 2013, support for immigration reform was the mainstream stance of the GOP — it was actually the major policy recommendation in the party’s postmortem. In 2008, cap-and-trade looked like mainstream Republicanism, too. Rubio is a politician who knows how to locate the mainstream position within his party. His dilemma is twofold: Politics is a business where you’re supposed to pretend everything you believe at a given moment is a matter of deep moral conviction, and the convictions he needs to deeply believe in in order to stay in the heart of his party’s consensus keep moving farther right.