Pity poor Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
For a brief moment, the Florida senator was considered the future of the Republican party – a media savvy Cuban American who seemed in tune with the new direction the party wanted to head. First elected to the Senate in 2010, Rubio seemed poised for great things in the GOP.
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Then a few things happened. He turned himself into a meme by guzzling water as he gave the party response to then-President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2013. In 2016 during a GOP presidential debate, he revealed himself to be a robot, by repeating the same 25-second criticism of Obama over and over again.
Finally, Rubio was overtaken by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the new, more feral face of the GOP. Forget the polished, multi-cultural image that the party was trying to cultivate in the wake of former President George W. Bush. DeSantis is the future, Trumpism in all its authoritarian splendor.
Still, ambitious politician that he is, Rubio isn’t about to be left behind as he runs for his third term. If nothing else, he’s got his anti-LGBTQ record to run on, which is perfect for the party of Don’t Say Gay.
Indeed, Rubio was quick to jump on the hateful bandwagon that DeSantis is leading.
“To call it ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ which is what people have done, is ridiculous. That’s not what the bill is about at all,” Rubio said about the measure before it passed. “The bill basically says that sexual orientation is just not something schools should be talking to children about.”
Of course, that’s not exactly what the bill says. It forbids discussing sexual orientation and gender identity matters up to third grade. It also allows parents to sue schools for teaching things they don’t like, like mentioning anything about LGBTQ issues. Schools also have to notify parents when students seek mental health services, putting questioning youth at risk from parents not sympathetic to their struggles.
Yet Rubio insists otherwise. “We send our kids to school to learn how to read, to learn how to write, to learn about history, to acquire academic proficiency,” he said. “We don’t send kids to school so the schools can raise our kids, we send them so they can teach them.”
What better way to teach them by censoring what teachers can talk about?
Of course, talking out of both sides of his mouth has always come easily to Rubio. After the Pulse nightclub massacre, Rubio cautioned his fellow conservative Christians that they needed to be more tolerant, which got him fawning media coverage. When Don’t Say Gay came around, Rubio invoked Sodom and Gomorrah. So much for tolerance.
Knowing which way the political winds are blowing, Rubio is going all in on the anti-LGBTQ hatred. He got a local Air Force base to cancel a drag queen story hour on the grounds that it was about “sexual content,” subtly hinting at the pedophilia calumny that drives so much of the far right.
All of this rhetoric has a solid foundation in Rubio’s past. He was a solid opponent of marriage equality, saying that “you have to really have a ridiculous and absurd reading of the U.S. Constitution to reach the conclusion that people have a right to marry someone of the same sex.” As a presidential candidate, he promised to repeal all of Obama’s nondiscrimination laws and appoint anti-LGBTQ judges. He threatened to kill any immigration reform bill if it helped gay couples.
The Democrats have a dream candidate in Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), the former Orlando chief of police. But Rubio still remains a favorite in the increasingly conservative state.
That may change as the campaign heats up. Rubio has done his best to cater to the changing nature of the GOP, but it may be that the party’s base has moved beyond him.
Even if he manages to hold on, he’ll remain a reminder of what the party once thought it would be, not what it would be become.