At long last, we’ve reached Peak Rubio. I’m literally laughing out loud.
Mr. Tillerson is likely to have a potentially unprecedented level of influence over the direction of our foreign policy. I remain concerned that in the years to come, our country will not give the defense of democracy and human rights the priority they deserve, and will pursue a foreign policy that too often sets aside our values and our historic alliances in pursuit of flawed geopolitical deals.
But in making my decision on his nomination, I must balance these concerns with his extensive experience and success in international commerce, and my belief that the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet. Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy. Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.
However, upcoming appointments to critical posts in the Department of State are not entitled to and will not receive from me the same level of deference I have given this nomination.
Ross Douthat imagines the Rubio statement after Trump hands eastern Europe over to Putin and Marco the superhawk has to vote on it:
"Despite my reservations over trading Baltic independence for several hotel properties in Crimea …"
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) January 23, 2017
People across conservative media and the wider press have been chattering about Rubio’s Hamlet act on Tillerson since his “moral clarity” lecture at the confirmation hearing, yet I can’t think of a single one who predicted that he wouldn’t cave and end up voting for T-Rex in the end. Partly that’s because cabinet nominees almost never get voted down, especially when the president’s party has a majority in the Senate, but it’s also a reflection of opinion on Rubio himself. This is a guy who called Trump a “con man” in the primary, said he couldn’t be trusted with America’s nuclear arsenal, then turned around and endorsed him in the general election, even saying he’d be “honored” to speak at the GOP convention in favor of Trump. He followed the same pattern with Tillerson — withering criticism of an adversary’s basic moral character and fitness for office followed by a bizarro endorsement for reasons of obvious political expedience. It’s worth revisiting Philip Klein’s piece from last May, “Donald Trump has exposed Marco Rubio,” now that Rex Tillerson has exposed him again:
That is, far from being an inspirational moral leader, Rubio has shown himself to be more of an opportunistic politician with his finger to the wind. He latched on to the Tea Party energy when he needed it to launch a long-shot Senate bid against an establishment figure in 2010. He embraced the idea of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 in the wake of a GOP “autopsy” suggesting it was necessary to win in a changing electorate, but then downplayed it as it became a hindrance to his presidential campaign. Now he’s desperate to reconcile his past words about Trump — from just over two months ago — with his political need to fall in line behind his party’s nominee.
For all of Rubio’s rhetoric about responsible leadership, he’s now willing to embrace a demagogue just because that demagogue has an ‘R’ next to his name. Trump, for all his faults, has managed to expose Rubio’s true character — and it is not pretty.
Rubio still wants to be president and he knows that voting against Trump’s nominee will piss off some of the voters he’ll be looking to woo in a future Republican primary, so he voted yes. Simple as that. Nothing wrong with being an ambitious party hack — that’s 99 percent of Washington — but for cripes sake, if you know in advance that you’re going to cave, at least restrain yourself from angry lecturing about con men and moral clarity. Rubio keeps boxing himself in on tough political choices by pairing extreme sanctimony in his rhetoric with ruthless political calculation in his actual votes — or, as Drew McCoy put it, “Marco Rubio’s ego keeps writing checks his balls refuse to honor.” Either do the public scolding about the importance of human rights in foreign policy and vote no on Tillerson, in which case you’ll at least earn some grudging respect as a man of principle, or modify your tone in anticipation of your eventual support for the nominee, in which case you’ll seem like less of a hypocrite. Rubio seems to have concluded at some point that stern words about the direction his party should take followed by weak go-along action will somehow please people on both sides of the issue. In reality, of course, it ends up displeasing people on both sides. He’s destroying his credibility, which wasn’t in great shape to begin with after his immigration reversal.
And the worst part? By taking as long as he did to announce his vote, he ensured that it’d be irrelevant. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, vowed last week that the full Senate would vote on Tillerson’s confirmation even if the committee voted him down, i.e. even if Marco Rubio voted no. John McCain and Lindsey Graham announced yesterday that they’d vote to confirm Tillerson in a full Senate vote, all but guaranteeing that Tillerson would sail through and that Rubio’s vote wouldn’t matter. At the very least, Rubio should have gamed this process so that his vote meant something even if his position didn’t prevail. He could have announced early that he was against T-Rex, forcing Corker to scramble for Democratic votes on the committee and making McCain and Graham look weak in their own eventual cave on Tillerson. Or, alternately, he could have toned down the lectures at Tillerson’s hearing and announced early that he’d vote yes, which would have been seen as a key vote of confidence from a major hawk in T-Rex’s capabilities. Rubio would have come off as a bit of a kingmaker. As it is, he put himself in the worst possible situation, casting a vote that no longer mattered in any way except as a test of his own credibility. And he failed the test. Unbelievable.
Exit question: Note the bit at the very end of Rubio’s Facebook statement above. He caved on Tillerson but he’s totally going to be a hard-ass about the undersecretaries at State, huh? Trump’s going to fall off his chair laughing at that.