Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is big in Vermont.
That was the impression Wednesday during Rubio’s town hall meeting at the VFW in Littleton, New Hampshire, where the Florida Senator outlined his positions aimed at strengthening America’s national security and seeing it at the forefront of the world’s economy once again.
“What’s at stake is not just our economy or our standing in the world. What’s at stake is our identity. So the fundamental question is: what will it take to ensure that the American Dream survives in the 21st Century?” Rubio asked rhetorically as he paced in front of an immaculate Marco Rubio backdrop that his team had spent the last 45 minutes prior to his arrival constructing and putting up.
“Everything costs more, but their paychecks haven’t kept pace,” Rubio added of working Americans.
Vermonters Aren’t All About Bernie
During the question and answer period, three of those who asked Rubio questions from the crowd of around 120 people identified themselves as Vermonters.
“Not everyone in Vermont supports Bernie Sanders,” said one questioner in preface to his inquiry about Rubio’s stance on U.S. normalization of diplomatic ties with Cuba.
From getting tough on China, to slamming U.S. normalization of ties with Cuba, and the Iran nuclear deal, Rubio painted a picture in which American leadership has become weak and concessionary. But if he were elected into office, he would strengthen the military and foreign policy approach.
Questions on the environment, educational policy, foreign policy, the banking sector, Donald Trump, and other policy matters, included three from Vermonters back-to-back. Rubio joked, “are you from Vermont too?” to a Granite State attendee before they asked their question, and the crowd laughed.
There were little additional details provided Wednesday of Rubio’s recent tax policy announcement which has the potential to raise the profile of his campaign in the crowded GOP field.
“One out of five Republicans are running for president, so you’re going to get the chance to talk to them,” Rubio joked as the crowd laughed, going on to say that what distinguishes him is that he is focused not just on past accomplishments or electoral viability, but on the future.
“I was a state legislator for almost nine years. I was the speaker of the house for two of those years. I’m proud of what we’ve done in the past, but this campaign can’t be about the past,” Rubio said. “This election has to be about the future. I am running because I believe, I desperately want this country to remain a place where people can do for their children what my parents did for me.”
Rubio said Dodd-Frank has devastated local banks and that it needs to be repealed. He also slammed the fact that more businesses are now shutting down than starting, for the first time in 35 years.
On Foreign Affairs
Leadership failure also has the U.S. treating the Ayatollah of Iran better than the Prime Minister of Israel, Rubio claimed. He described thawing of relations with Cuba as a “one-sided deal” that gives Cuba’s tyrannical regime benefits, while demanding no actual reforms of the communist country as it works with America’s enemies and engages in criminal activities.
Rubio went on to say that the American military must be the strongest in the world, and be prepared for deployment, if necessary, against what he termed — very serious threats from the likes of spying, job-stealing China, North Korea, “the gangster in Moscow,” Vladimir Putin, a potentially nuclear-capable Iran, and jihadists of all stripes.
Veterans, they deserve the best care out there, Rubio said. Though he said there are “a lot of good people at the VA,” Rubio emphasized that veterans, not bureaucracy, need to be protected and highlighted his support for a bill allowing any deficient VA employee to be fired.
Many Americans are angry and feel sold out by their government, an audience member told Rubio prefacing his question. Rubio acknowledged that anger is justifiable, but added that it shouldn’t “define” or “divide” Americans, but should rather act as a motivator, particularly on issues for which he claimed there is “tremendous consensus” across American political lines.
Attendees appeared to respond well to Rubio, his economic plans, and militaristic views, except one man who questioned Rubio’s stance on man-made climate change during the question and answer portion of the town hall. The questioner did not accept Rubio’s evasive response and repeated his demand that Rubio say whether he believed the “scientific consensus” that climate change is real and primarily caused by human activities, to which Rubio repeated his statements that he would not in any way impinge America’s economic power because of climate change concerns. Doing so would hurt working class and poor Americans, Rubio said.
When asked about his ability and willingness to work across the aisle as president, Rubio pointed out matters he’s worked on, particularly higher education reforms, with Democratic colleagues, though he began by joking that the best way to accomplish things together was to “elect more Republicans.”
On The American Dream
Rubio is the son of immigrant parents from Cuba who came to the United States in 1956. He told the story of how his father worked hard to give him the opportunities he has today, and presented himself as the champion of hardworking people who want to give their family even better opportunities than they had growing up.
“The truth is, this is a universal dream. People all over the world achieve that and they have for centuries,” Rubio said.
“The reason why it’s called the ‘American Dream’ is because it’s happened for so many people so often here and it’s rare in so many other places. This American Dream has never been about how much money you make. It’s never been about being rich or famous. It isn’t about how many things you own on the day you die. The American Dream has always been about achieving happiness, and it is our identity as a nation,” he added.
Richard Machia from Cambridge, Vermont said he was impressed with Rubio’s remarks and positions during the town hall, but would like to know more specifics about Rubio’s tax proposal which would increase child tax credits and slash corporate taxes.
“I was very pleased, what I wanted to hear though were his thoughts about taxes. I did get the chance briefly afterwards,” Machia said. “I think we could get rid of this tax system that we got, and get us a fair tax.”
Rubio’s take on it was that he thought “if we couldn’t get the other one repealed we’d end up with both,” Machia said.
How The Media Has Influenced The Race
Earlier in the day, Rubio said he does not believe Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. While responding to a question at his Littleton stop, he implied that the media fixate on Trump for ratings and bluster, rather than substance and serious discussion.
Despite the media’s recent focus on incidents like Rubio mistakenly hitting a kid with a football, his policy ideas have the potential to gain greater traction and interest among the media and the Republican electorate as the primary approaches. Rubio’s considerable ability to use humor and skillful analogies to quickly relate to a crowd and speak their language, should also be a boon to his campaign
“We need to completely revolutionize what higher education means,” Rubio said for example, when speaking about his desire to expand vocational training in post-secondary colleges and champion the possibility of private investment into individual students. “A welder makes a lot more than a Greek philosopher.”
As he rolls out more of his campaign, Rubio’s potential to appeal to more Granite State voters, given his current relatively low position in the polls, remains to be seen, but Rubio’s New Hampshire campaigning is certainly set to intensify. He has made 21 campaign stops thus far, and is set to expand that number.
“We’ll be here a lot,” Rubio told a supporter following his Littleton stop.
Can the former South Miami High School football star throw a perfect spiral or is his 2016 campaign destined to be forever captured in the meme of the kid being hit in the head by his errant pass? Only time, and votes, will tell.