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This Is the Republican Party’s Savior?

By Josh Barro
February 13, 2013 12:48 AM EST

Time magazine says Senator Marco Rubio is going to save the Republican Party. It's wrong.

The response Rubio gave to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech offered little that was new or interesting. It consisted mostly of lines that could have come from any Republican politician, at any time in the last four years.

Rubio said that Obamacare is bad and will cost jobs. He said Obama will destroy jobs by raising taxes on employers -- by which Rubio means individuals with high incomes, since higher corporate income taxes are not on the table. He flippantly dismissed concerns about global warming, saying, “Our government can’t control the weather.”

He repeated broad anti-government themes, saying, “More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back.” As an alternative he offered the Republican formula of lower taxes, less spending and less regulation, saying that would raise incomes and create middle-class prosperity.

This is the case that Mitt Romney made against Obama in the 2012 election. It’s the case that Republican Senate candidates made all over the country. It is a case for trickle-down economics. And it is a case that Americans have rejected. 

Republicans think putting up a spokesman like Rubio, who is Hispanic and in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, will help them make inroads with minorities. But all of the large minority groups -- blacks, Hispanics and Asians -- look much more favorably on government than whites do, seeing it as an entity that can and should help people get ahead rather than just getting out of the way.

In 2012, the Republican Party’s anti-government message left these groups cold, leading Romney to lose Hispanics by more than 2 to 1 and Asians by nearly 3 to 1. Immigration reform can’t overcome this message problem. As the country gets less and less white, reflexive “I Built It”-ism is only going to become more electorally costly to Republicans.

The Republican Party’s problem isn’t the messenger; it’s the broad economic message. To fix the message, Republicans need to be for smart government. They need to signal that they have a serious policy agenda that considers programs and regulations on a case-by-case basis, rather than just demagoguing the government. They need a real agenda on health care and jobs rather than just opportunistic opposition to anything the president does.

In other words, they need a message that befits a grown-up party that is ready to govern. Rubio, handsome and smooth though he is, did not offer that. And the Republican Party can only be saved by a messenger who does.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him at jbarro1@bloomberg.net and follow him on Twitter.)

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