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Marco Rubio: A New Face on the Grand Old (Wealthy, White, Male) Party

02/12/2013 09:40 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2013

I don't know what Sen. Marco Rubio is going to say in his official Republican response to the State of the Union tonight. But I think I can guess what he'll not be saying: anything new.

Rubio's address is the GOP's latest attempt to put a new, young, charismatic, less white and less stodgy face on the party's policies. They have a lot of ground to make up after nominating a presidential candidate who acted like he had just walked off a Monopoly board. But the GOP should know by now that changing spokespeople isn't the same as changing priorities. Rubio's delivering part of his address in Spanish isn't going to change the fact that many Republicans see Latinos as part of the "dependent" and "entitled" 47 percent. His youth isn't going to make his party get behind student loan expansions or support LGBT equality or embrace reproductive choice. His moderate rhetoric and tone don't change the fact that he's representing a party that's slipped further and further into extremism. Listening to Rand Paul's Tea Party response to the response or to Republican State of the Union guest Ted "I Will Either Be Dead or in Jail" Nugent, who we are told is available to press both before and after the speech, will give you the unvarnished sense of where the Republican party really is.

Indeed, the fact that Marco Rubio is the GOP's new face of moderation shows just how far off the rails his party has gone. Rubio happily enables the GOP's anti-tax extremism, signing the infamous Norquist Pledge and voting with his colleagues to imperil the world economy by refusing a routine debt ceiling increase. He opposed the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, in part because she agreed with Supreme Court decisions guaranteeing women the right to contraception and abortion. He's chummy with anti-gay groups like the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage. He's a global warming skeptic. He won't take sides in the old-earth/young-earth debate because "I'm not a scientist, man."

That said, Rubio has shown interest in working across the aisle to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, and has been given permission to do so by party leaders panicking over their impending demographic doom. I hope that he is indeed committed and succeeds without being dragged down by the anti-immigrant faction of his own party. But that might be very difficult. When he proposed an alternative to the DREAM Act last year, he initially tried to meet his party in the middle, but ended up far off to the right with a watered-down plan that offered the children of undocumented immigrants permanent second-class status.

The Republican leadership isn't fooling anybody by making Rubio the new face of their sinking ship. A party truly interested in saving itself would think long and hard about the policies that have driven women, gay people, young people, immigrants and people of color away from it in droves. Instead they're thinking about rigging elections and finding a constant supply of new faces to deliver the same old message. It's the policies, not the packaging.

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