Enthusiastic pundits aside, there is not yet any evidence that Rubio is making up lost ground among Republican voters or activists. There will always be a dedicated group of foreign policy hawks in the GOP who will welcome Rubio’s criticisms of foreign dictators and his alarmist rhetoric about the “spread of totalitarianism,” but they have less influence with the party’s base than at any time in the last 20 years. For all the talk of a Rubio revival, his support among CPAC attendees was down sharply from the previous year, which reflects how out of step Rubio is with the growing number of libertarian activists in the party. Perhaps if he hadn’t already alienated so many conservatives on immigration, he could afford to take a hard line on foreign policy, but as it is he has given several different Republican groups reason to distrust and dislike him.
Rubio’s bigger problem, though, is that few Republicans want to hear what he has to say. Like almost all other Americans, GOP voters have little interest in these issues right now, and there is not nearly as much enthusiasm for an activist foreign policy on the right as there was just a few years ago. According to a December Pew survey, 52 percent of Republicans said that the United States is doing “too much” to address global problems, while just 18 percent believe America is not doing enough. Rubio’s hawkish rhetoric is likely to appeal only to the small minority of Republicans who think the United States is being too passive and uninvolved, and it will leave everyone else cold. He could probably win a straw poll at the American Enterprise Institute, but that’s about it.