Rubio's running mate: Ronald Reagan
Marco Rubio is drawing direct parallels to his campaign and Ronald Reagan's, casting himself as a transformational figure who will cure America's problems and renew optimism.
In Tennessee on Sunday, Rubio told more than 4,000 people that as a boy he took notice of Reagan.
"Thirty-six years ago … I was only 8 years old, but I was old enough to know that things were not going well," Rubio said. "Even as a young child I could sense that America's optimism had ebbed. I could sense that our influence in the world had declined. I could sense that our confidence in ourselves and in our people was at an all-time low. And then this nation elected a phenomenal president named Ronald Reagan."
A day earlier, in his South Carolina primary night speech, Rubio declared:
"The children of the Reagan Revolution are ready to assume the mantle of leadership. Now, those of us who grew up when it was morning in America, and Ronald Reagan was in the White House, are ready to do for our generation — are ready to do for the next generation what Ronald Reagan did for ours."
"Morning" references the classic Reagan ad, "Morning Again in America." Rubio last week released an ad that copies it, only putting a darker spin that amounts to an indictment of President Obama's leadership.
Republicans have long invoked Reagan, of course. But Rubio's rhetorical skill often has voters making the comparison. Now Rubio is trying to make that more explicit.
A couple differences: Reagan was a two-term governor and ran for president twice before winning in 1980. He entered the White House at nearly 70 years old.
Rubio, 44, has written before about how he came to view Reagan — and flipped from a Democrat in the process.
"My interest in politics began around the time we moved to Vegas, and by 1980 politics was a preoccupation second only to football. Two events had captured my attention that year: Senator Edward Kennedy's challenge to President Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination and the Iran hostage crisis. I was a Kennedy supporter.
"With rapt attention I watched the Democratic convention in New York, and was crushed by the outcome of what seemed an excruciatingly slow delegate count that gave the nomination to President Carter. I was inspired by Senator Kennedy's concession speech.
"My grandfather didn't admire either of them. Ronald Reagan was his man. He despised President Carter because of the Iran hostage crisis, a humiliation Papá seemed to feel personally. America must be a strong country, he constantly preached, or the world would succumb to darkness, and a strong country requires a strong leader.
"He thought the world didn't respect or fear Carter. He was weak, he said, and other countries preyed on his weakness. That's why the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the Iranians had seized our embassy. He blamed the failed attempt to rescue the hostages on cuts to defense spending Carter had made.
"Ronald Reagan would restore our strength, he assured me. He would confront communism. Our allies would follow him and our enemies would respect him."