Rubio post-mortems miss the point.
In the end, it is just more fall-out from crony capitalism.
None of the post-mortems of Rubio’s campaign I have seen mention the real reason why the young senator, so articulate, so successful, recently touted as the future of his party, never got launch speed in his campaign for the presidency. It is actually Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)’s handiwork, aided and abetted by Rubio’s misjudgment.
Shortly after the 2012 election, the GOP was worrying about Romney’s poor showing among Hispanics. At the same time, Senator Schumer and other Democrats were thinking that Rubio, himself Hispanic, was by far the most electable Republican candidate in 2016. How to bring him down?
Schumer’s plan was simple: lure Rubio into the gang of eight immigration bill promising eventual citizenship to all illegal immigrants. Success in this would effectively kill Rubio’s chances in 2016 with GOP primary voters. Rubio would not only have gotten out of step with those primary voters; he would also have reversed the position he took in his Senate race and thus appear to be dishonest.
Would Rubio walk into this trap? That it was a carefully plotted trap was clear enough to me and others at the time. But he did. Once he did, the odds of his gaining the GOP nomination were always poor. They became even poorer as President Obama increasingly refused to enforce border protection laws, thereby stirring up GOP voters on the issue.
Immigration Reform was Rubio’s RomneyCare
It is possible that had Rubio run in 2012, before all this happened, he might be president today. The GOP primary voters in 2012 were clearly looking for some alternative to Romney and Rubio might have been that alternative. The only thing against him in 2012 was his youth and John Kennedy had overcome that handicap. If he had run and gotten Romney’s vote but done better with under 30 year olds and Hispanics, he would have had the votes to be elected.
Ironically, party donors begged Chris Christie, Rubio’s recent nemesis, to enter the race then too, and if he had, he might have won the nomination. His chances against President Obama, however, would not have been as good, if only because Rubio could run as the first Hispanic candidate for president, which would have helped when running against the first black president.
Was there any way Rubio could have recovered from his miscalculation? There was one possibly effective tack to take. When Rubio signed onto the gang of eight bill, he said that if legislation was not passed, President Obama was going to take dictatorial and unconstitutional action on the border. By 2015, Rubio could have cited his earlier comment, totally disavowed the gang of eight bill, claimed that it had been intended solely to stop President Obama, and that having failed to do so and in the wake of President Obama’s actions, it no longer deserved support. It is doubtful this would have worked, but it might have been more effective than what Rubio did, which was to temporize and obfuscate and even pretend that Senator Cruz had supported the bill, which was not true.
This is not unlike Mitt Romney’s tortured stance on RomneyCare in 2011 and 2012. Romney might have done better to disavow completely RomneyCare in Massachusetts as a failed experiment rather than temporizing and obfuscating about it. In the absence of a complete abandonment of RomneyCare, he could never really mount an effective attack on Obamacare, RomneyCare’s lookalike, and he needed such an effective attack in order to win election. Tactics aside, Romney may not have wanted to do this because he really believed in RomneyCare and the same may have been true of Rubio. He may not have been able to disavow the gang of eight bill because, deep down, he still believed in it, and his conscience would not let him lie.
The Politics of a Failing Economy
None of this may seem to be connected to economics, but the connection is actually quite close. The economy has performed so poorly for so long that tens of millions of primary voters are very, very worried. The more they worry about getting or keeping jobs, the more they worry about job competition from immigrants, and the more easily they become inflamed about open borders. Voters also sense that the crony capitalists are getting richer while they are getting poorer, which is true, and they identify the crony capitalists with the unlimited immigration position. Big business in particular wants the cheapest labor possible, they reason, and this means big business wants open borders.
There is an irony here. Free and open markets, with free and open prices, not controlled by government, are the only way to create prosperity and jobs for the poor and middle class, not just those enriching themselves from government connections. Yet a declining economy often produces political waves that are inimical to free and open markets.
Meanwhile, the greatest harm done to the economy has been done by the world’s central bankers. Entrusted with protecting the value of global currencies, they have instead trashed them, in the process creating today’s cycles of bubble and bust. No economic logic, no valid theory, no empirical evidence supports what these self-appointed central economic planners have done, but the more their radical ideas fail, the more they double down on them. The only beneficiaries are the crony capitalist rich and is it any wonder that, under these circumstances, primary voters would be angry and look to unconventional candidates?
A Declining Empire
The reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire have been endlessly debated. In my own view, there were three, highly interrelated causes. The first was noted by Ludwig von Mises: the Emperors debased the currency and by doing so destroyed what had been a thriving economy, what might be called the world’s first “global” trading economy. So far, we are doing the same.
Second, the emperors increasingly opened the borders to immigrants. This might have turned out better if the economy had been thriving. But with the economy in sharp decline, it made a bad situation worse and eventually led to outright invasions.
Third, pandemics arrived, massive pandemics that wiped out large proportions of the population. We have not yet experienced anything like that, but medical authorities continually warn us that it could happen anytime, and could take the form of a viral pandemic, for which there would be no cure, or a bacterial pandemic such as TB, because we have allowed antibiotic resistant forms to flourish through antibiotic misuse.
It is a long way from Marco Rubio back to Marcus Aurelius, the “good” emperor who nevertheless persecuted the Christians, or the many incompetent or mad Caesars, but humanity does tend to make the same errors over and over again and rarely takes the time or trouble to learn from the past.