CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — He knew the question would come up as soon as he stepped foot in Iowa, and Marco Rubio was ready for it.
No, his swing through Iowa to do fundraisers — with the Republican Party of Iowa for his 2016 Iowa campaign manager, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, and for 1st District Rep. Ashley Hinson — isn’t about a future presidential campaign, but just his way of supporting his friends.
“You don't come to Iowa and not know that people are going to speculate about it in that way,” the Florida Republican said Wednesday after speaking to about 50 people at a Hinson fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. “But frankly, we've got friends and made relationships here. It would be strange not to come back and be helpful to people after everything they did for me.”
Rubio insists his focus is on re-election in 2022, not on 2024. He wants another term to work on his Florida priorities, including Everglades restoration, and for Republicans to be back in the majority in 2023 so he can once again chair the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Rubio, who finished third in 2016 Iowa GOP precinct caucuses behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, said it’s far too early to be thinking about 2024.
“Just think about how much the world has changed in the last five years,” he said. “Who knows what the world's going to look like three years from now?”
Based on the actions of the Biden administration and Democrats who control of Congress, he’s not optimistic.
For most of American history, Rubio said, the dividing line in the country has been between one side wanting more government and the other side wanting less, one party wanting more government spending while the other party wanted lower taxes.
“But they agreed on the basic premise that America was an extraordinary country, a special place,” he said. There always have been those who disagreed, “but they were the fringe elements. They had a radio show at 3 a.m. or they were in the faculty lounge.”
But now they are members of Congress, running federal agencies, sitting on President Joe Biden’s cabinet, he said. No longer is the debate between left versus right, “but about the very definition of what America is.”
The most obvious example is the Democrats’ proposed $3.5 trillion budget, which Rubio called “the hardest push to socialism and Marxism as you've ever seen.”
“It's no longer a theory. It’s no longer a paper,” Rubio said. “It is a proposal that is just a handful of votes away from becoming approved.”
The debate today and in 2022 when he and Hinson — and, Rubio hopes, Sen. Chuck Grassley — are running for re-election is about how to define America.
“Is it a special and unique country, a nation of 200 and some odd years of perpetual progress that we keep building on?” he asked. “Or is it an inherently evil society that needs to be torn down economically, institutionally, structurally, and rebuilt to some fake socialist utopia?
“That's what's on the ballot,” he said.