If the Cold War is back, Marco Rubio wants to be Ronald Reagan.
The GOP Florida senator has been laying out his case for a muscular, more interventionist foreign policy for weeks, sounding the alarm about Russia’s incursion into Crimea and criticizing President Obama for his handling of the crisis.
He's positioned himself as a foreign policy hawk who might stand out from a GOP field that’s increasingly dominated by libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — whose views risk looking overly isolationist amid the Russia crisis.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea has given Rubio, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member long critical of Obama on national defense issues, opportunities to show off his foreign affairs prowess on a national stage.
His efforts are drawing praise from across the GOP — and new comparisons to Reagan.
“Marco Rubio's piece is fantastic,” Dana Perino, a Fox News host and White House press secretary for former President George W. Bush, told The Hill about Rubio’s Thursday op-ed on Russia in The Washington Post.
In the piece, Rubio laid out a detailed, Reagan-esque response on what the U.S. should do to respond to Putin. It was his third op-ed this month on Ukraine.
Rubio called for kicking Russia out of the Group of Eight, broadening sanctions against Putin’s allies, an arms embargo against Russia and potentially letting more nations into NATO.
“If Putin is allowed to take land from a neighboring nation through deceit and raw military force without serious consequences, the precedent could have global repercussions, including in Asia,” he wrote in the Post.
The latest op-ed came after a high-profile speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month that Rubio used to drill Obama on foreign policy.
“He is passionate and genuine on this, and it makes a difference, especially to the donors and the people who vote in the future,” said Perino.
His new maneuvers come at a time where advocates for a more muscular foreign policy increasingly feel under siege and are looking for a leader. That strategy could boost him with the more hawkish voters in the Republican base, as well as with a GOP donor class that tends to be more internationally focused than other voters.
Rubio has been increasingly vocal on a number of foreign policy issues. He’s long been outspoken about Cuba, and has been a leader in the Senate for pushing for more action to stand up to Venezuela’s dictator during recent crackdowns on protestors. He’s also been outspoken on Israel and the Middle East.
He frames his speech in stark, Reagan-esque terms, framing global policy as a fight between freedom and tyranny.
Rubio has drawn comparisons to Reagan in the past.
In late February, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who had blasted Rubio time and again for his “amnesty” proposals on immigration, played nearly all of Rubio’s Senate floor speech on Cuba in late February before offering a positive comparison between Rubio and Reagan.
“We haven't had communism blasted like Rubio did it by an elected official in I don't know how long — certainly since the days of Reagan,” he said.
The praise from Limbaugh is helpful for Rubio, whose brand was tarnished on the right when he helped move an immigration reform bill through the Senate. Rubio has been trying to get back in the good graces of conservatives ever since, to mixed effects.
Rubio led a number of early White House polls in early 2013, but his support has collapsed both nationally and in the early-voting states — he was tied for sixth place in an early March poll of national Republicans conducted for CNN, and after finishing a close second to Paul in CPAC's 2013 straw poll plunged to a sixth-place finish this year.
Paul’s CPAC straw poll win and lead in some national polls has the GOP’s neo-cons nervous, and they’re looking for a leader.
“Pundits will say that it would be politically foolish to try to awaken Americans rather than cater to their alleged war-weariness. We can’t prove them wrong. Perhaps it would be easier for a Republican to win in 2016 running after the fashion of Warren Gamaliel Harding in 1920 rather than that of Ronald Wilson Reagan in 1980. But what would such a victory be worth?” Weekly Standard Editor-in-Chief William Kristol, a leading neoconservative, wrote in a recent op-ed. “Will no brave leader step forward to honorably awaken us from our unworthy sleep?”
Rubio is aiming to be that leader.
While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has sparred with Paul over foreign policy, he’s not a favorite of the East Coast establishment for a variety of other issues, and the governors who might run for president haven’t been as vocal on Russia, giving Rubio an opening to woo them after months as an afterthought in the presidential conversation.