Rubio Charts a Path Forward for the Right

Senator Marco Rubio in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Marco Rubio gave a speech last week at Catholic University in which he outlined a vision for the future of the Republican party. He thinks, correctly, that the right’s economic policy agenda should focus more on workers and “the opportunity to attain the dignity that comes from hard work.”

The specifics of his agenda could use some work, but what made the speech stand out was its focus on this broader goal, and its attempt to create a framework for thinking about the future of conservatism.

Senator Rubio has long been a leader in exactly this kind of effort: updating and adapting the conservative policy agenda from its Reagan-era vintage to meet the needs of 21st-century America.

On the specifics, he leans too heavily into today’s populist frustration. For example, he argues for industrial policy and criticizes stock buybacks.

I discuss the speech in my latest Bloomberg column, and argue that the senator:

should stick closer to the right’s longstanding commitments to markets, advancing opportunity and insistence on individual responsibility, and further away from populism.

Doing so would not need to divert him from his worthy focus on workers. Much the opposite. For example, Rubio could push to break down barriers in the labor market, help ex-offenders get jobs by regulating how employers ask job-seekers about criminal records, back an agenda to increase the skills of workers so that they can command higher wages in competitive markets, and expand federal earnings subsidies to low-income households, both to draw them into the workforce and to help lift them out of poverty.

Check out my column for my full argument. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

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