Rubio and the establishment

Sarah M. directed me to this 538 post, remarking that she had no idea that Rubio was at all anti-establishment.  Indeed, so.  It’s easy to forget that he rose to national prominence in 2010 as a Tea Party darling who defeated an establishment Republican in a Senate primary.  Anyway, here’s Harry Enten bringing some data on Rubio:

Rubio’s ideology tends to get lost next to that of Cruz, but he is one of the most conservative members of Congress. We can see this using DW-Nominate, an algorithm that rates members of Congress on a liberal-conservative scale based on their voting record. Rubio is more conservative than 77 percent of Republicans serving in Congress this term…

Rubio’s other problem is that his voting pattern seems to be more anti-establishment than the average member of Congress. While it’s not always clear what “anti-establishment” means, DW-Nominate’s second dimension, as I have written about, is a decent proxy for it. It isn’t a perfect measurement and it probably overstates Rubio’s disagreements with the GOP leadership. Still, Rubio’s score on this metric indicates he is more anti-establishment than 88 percent of Republicans in Congress. It’d have to be way off for Rubio to somehow be considered establishment friendly… [emphasis mine]

Rubio was elected in 2010 as a tea party supporter who challenged Florida’s sitting governor in a Senate race. Except for immigration reform (on which Rubio’s position seems malleable), there were few occasions when Rubio went to bat for a major cause of the establishment.

Indeed, Rubio’s voting profile more closely resembles the House Freedom Caucus than it does a mainstream Republican…

Rubio’s problem is that the mere threat of Cruz and Trump hasn’t made many mainstream Republicans run to him with open arms. It may be, among other reasons, because they’re afraid that endorsements from the “establishment” would actually hurt Rubio. Voters seem to want an outsider this year, and YouGov has found that they’ve already pegged Rubio as a member of the establishment.

But if Rubio’s voting record is any indication, it may be that Republican members of Congress are not choosing Rubio because his record doesn’t line up with theirs. Some may be hoping that Bush, Chris Christie or John Kasich can rally. If they can’t, or if Rubio wins a primary or two, we’ll see if Rubio’s fortunes on the endorsement front change.

Good stuff.  With Trump out there in his own world and Cruz, literally the most conservative member of Congress, it is easy to see Rubio as more “establishment” than he actually is.  Also, it is amazing the symbolic power of one high-profile deviation from party orthodoxy.  Even when back-tracked.  This fits with my long-held idea that a Republican who was literally as conservative as Cruz on every single issue except abortion would be labeled “moderate” by all the media if they were even modestly pro-choice.  That was part of Bill Clinton’s brilliance in 1992– by being pro death penalty (an issue upon which the president has almost no impact) and taking on Sister Souljah, it enabled him to seem “moderate” while generally holding orthodox liberal positions.

Anyway, short version: once upon a time being moderate on immigration and being not nearly as crazy as Cruz has gotten Rubio labeled “establishment.”  But, in the big picture, there’s plenty of reason to think establishment Republicans would prefer somebody else until given no choice (i.e., it is clear where the establishment goes if only Rubio is left against Cruz and/or Trump).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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