Sprinkled throughout Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech announcing his run for president on Monday were odes to his unique appeal as a fresh face in a changing country and subtle jabs at the political dynasties of two top rivals, Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“This election is not just about what laws we will pass. It is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be,” the Florida Republican said to an adoring audience at the iconic Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. “Too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century. They’re busy looking backwards. … Now the time has come for our generation to lead the way towards a new American century.”
The announcement came one day after Clinton announced via a video message online that she’ll run for president.
“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday,” Rubio said. “Yesterday is over, and we’re never going back. You see, we Americans are proud of our history, but our country has always been about the future. And before us now is the opportunity to author the greater chapter yet in the amazing story of America. But we can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past. We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them.”
The phrases “generational choice” and “yesterday is over” and “the leaders and ideas of the past” serve to make the case against the arguable GOP frontrunner Bush (a fellow Floridian who had been a mentor to Rubio) and the indisputable Democratic frontrunner Clinton. They also highlight Rubio’s compelling personal story as a son of Cuban immigrants who rose from humble beginnings; his father was a bartender and his mother was a hotel maid.
The 43-year-old senator is seeking a similar path to the White House as his foe, President Barack Obama, who was 45 and also just a few years into his first term as senator when he declared his intention to run for the White House eight years ago. While Obama became the country’s first African American president, Rubio is vying to become its first Hispanic American president, a decision he said he arrived at “after months of deliberation and prayer about the future of our country.”
The theme of income inequality, which progressives have pushed to the forefront of the political debate, tied into Rubio’s message. “For almost all of human history, power and wealth belonged only to a select few,” he said.
Before his speech, the Democratic National Committee argued that Rubio’s policies don’t match up to his rhetoric. “Rubio likes to claim that he is a leader with fresh ideas, but his record clearly shows he’s just following the same old tired Republican playbook,” the DNC said, citing his opposition to same-sex marriage, support for cutting taxes on “corporations and millionaires” and his backtracking from his own immigration reform bill after it passed the Senate.
Rubio’s rousing speech was colored with a standard conservative message and attacks on those who support “taxing and borrowing and regulating like it was 1999” and who “appease our enemies” and “betray our allies.” He added, “The family, not the government, is the most important institution in our society.”
The Florida senator has consistently trailed in early GOP polls behind Bush and Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, both of whom have not yet announced their candidacy but are widely expected to run.
As big as the news of Rubio’s announcement was to the presidential campaign it was also a major development in the battle for Senate control in 2016. Rubio’s decision means he won’t run for reelection and will vacate a seat in a swing state where he was seen as the best bet to keep it in Republican hands.
“Tonight,” Rubio said, “grounded by the lessons of our history but inspired by the promise of our future I announce my candidacy for president of the United States.” In a likely reference to Republican supporters of Bush, he said: “I’ve heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn. But I cannot.”