Is Rubio "evolving" into a Trumpist?

The answer is obviously “no,” but the left is mad at him for all the tweets he sent during the Florida recount reminding the world that Broward County’s election apparatus is overseen by imbeciles whose misdeeds have come to the attention of courts before. If he were a Democrat, it’d be his civic duty to point that out. Because he’s a Republican defending an election-night result that favored Republicans he’s allegedly “striking a notably darker and foreboding tone” reminiscent of the Foreboder-in-Chief.

Like many Republicans, the second-term Florida senator has sounded more and more like President Trump since the 2016 election — striking a notably darker and foreboding tone while adopting some of Trump’s slash-and-burn political tactics and controversial positions…

“I do think he’s evolving,” said Brian Ballard, a Rubio associate and Republican donor in Florida. “I have noticed his tweets are much more in-your-face.”…

Rubio’s office declined to make him available for an interview, but people close to him offered several possible explanations for his current approach: He will not be on the ballot until 2022 and feels liberated to speak his mind; he feels that he needs to channel the message of his 2010 campaign more aggressively; and he is looking to stay relevant in a party in which Trump has won widespread support.

It’s true that he wrote an op-ed last week defending nationalism after Emmanuel Macron jabbed at Trump over the term, but read it and you’ll see that it has nothing to do with Rubio adopting the “darker and foreboding” elements of Trump’s shtick. On the contrary. Rubio’s flirtation with nationalism is actually his attempt to redefine the concept and steer it away from a National-Front-style movement to something much more anodyne and inclusive. A key bit:

Americans are the children of pilgrims, immigrants and slaves. It is in our DNA to confront great challenges and achieve great things against great odds. Patriotism is the love of this national inheritance—not just the freedom and equality that our inheritance makes possible.

President Trump is right to embrace the label “nationalist,” because a true American nationalism isn’t about a national identity based on race, religion or ethnicity. Instead, it is based on our identity as a nation committed to the idea that all people are created equal, with a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That’s the closest he comes in his piece to answering the eternal question, “What’s the difference between patriotism and nationalism?” As I understand him, his answer is “There is no difference.” Which is wrong, as is his frankly odd attempt to make liberal civic ideals the north star of American nationalism.

There are two prongs to nationalism, neither one of which has anything to do with “all people are created equal” and both of which usually, although not always, come packaged together. One is economic populism: Nationalists agree with leftists that the working class has gotten hosed by “globalist” economic policies and want government to do more to rebuild their economic power. Tariffs, unions, and stronger borders to keep out cheap foreign labor are all on the menu. Rubio himself has championed conservative policies that would return money to working-class taxpayers in the form of more robust credits while shying away from statist left-wing solutions. Make the working class great again, nationalists argue, and you’ll see all sorts of salutary knock-on effects — more stable households, stronger families, better communities.

The other prong is cultural nationalism, Trump’s favorite. He talks a good game about economic populism and has certainly followed through on tariffs, but the big GOP tax cut wasn’t remotely as concerned with the lower classes as it might have been, as Rubio could and would tell you. The stuff that really seems to make Trump’s political heart stir are perceptions that the left is taking cultural ground from the right — NFL players kneeling during the anthem, Antifa rampaging through the streets, a horde of immigrants traveling north towards the U.S. border in a slow-motion invasion by caravan with enthusiastic Democratic support. There aren’t always racial connotations to these antagonisms (Antifa is lily white as far as I can tell) but there often are, and certainly there are in the more traditional strains of European nationalism. If you want to make our nation great again, you need to sideline, deport, or bar those whose values would undermine the things that make it great.

The two prongs are concerned with the question of who the nation is for. Who’s at the core of American identity? Which group’s fortunes should the U.S. government try to advance? “The working class,” say economic nationalists. “Whites, Christians, right-wingers, the people who built this country,” say cultural nationalists. Pointing to civic ideals like “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to answer those questions is incoherent. But this is my point — Rubio’s consciously trying to stretch the idea of nationalism so that it includes everyone, making it more like patriotism than a philosophy of warring economic and demographic groups. It’s well-intended, but it’s nonsense.

Look no further than immigration. Rubio is pro-immigration, as we all well know from the Gang of Eight debacle. Nationalists are anti-immigration, fiercely so with respect to the illegal variety and increasingly so with respect to the legal kind. If Rubio’s definition of nationalism were accurate, nationalists would assess which foreigners we should admit in terms of their respect for basic civic and constitutional values. Actual nationalists, though, look at immigrants’ effects on the labor market and their respect for values beyond the elementary ones like “all men are created equal.” How do they feel about the welfare state? Are they going to fly the Mexican flag at home instead of the American one? Keep ’em out. Why take chances?

There’s another core issue on which Rubio’s a terrible fit for nationalism. One thing nationalists of both stripes tend to have in common is skepticism of military interventionism. The economic nationalists don’t see why American treasure should be spent fixing up Iraq when it could be spent fixing up poor communities here. Cultural nationalists don’t see why American lives should be risked for primitives who’ll never be able to maintain a civil society even if we manage to set one up for them. Rubio, though, is an ardent interventionist, possibly the most forceful advocate in the Senate for defending human rights abroad. What does a nationalist care about a Syrian’s human rights when we have so many problems at home to fix, though? Who care if the Saudis murder an American-based journalist who writes for the Washington Post? They’re spending $100 billion on American weapons, aren’t they?

It’ll be fun watching Rubio try to paper over these basic, basic differences in years ahead. It’s fun watching him do it here with the most ardent nationalist on American television, Tucker Carlson. A helpful tip for these two guys as they try to figure out which issues they could possibly disagree about: One of you worries about gypsies crapping in the street in American cities, the other doesn’t.