Top Reagan Scholar: Marco Rubio Is The ‘Closest Thing’ To A ‘Next Reagan’

Kevin Mooney Contributor
Font Size:

Of all the potential presidential candidates, there is one who stands out as the most Reagan-esque figure, despite — and perhaps because of — his stance on immigration reform, a top Reagan biographer says.

While he remains at odds with some conservatives who oppose a “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is well positioned to “reinvigorate the GOP” and “renew the conservative movement in 2016,” Paul Kengor, a Grove City College political science professor and author, told The Daily Caller in an interview.

“If Republicans do not nominate Marco Rubio in 2016, they’re nuts and they don’t deserve to win,” Kengor said. “Rubio is an excellent communicator who can deliver the conservative message in a likeable, winsome way just like Reagan did.”

After compiling a list of 11 principles that “paint a comprehensive picture” of what it means to be a Reagan conservative, Kengor says he concluded that Rubio best fits the Reagan mold in terms of core convictions and his ability to communicate with non-conservatives.

Kengor’s latest book, “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative,” is the fifth he has authored on the former president in the past 10 years. The book’s final chapter, “A Time for Choosing” takes its title from the speech Reagan delivered 50 years ago this year on behalf of Barry Goldwater who was the 1964 Republican presidential candidate. The “Time for Choosing Address” is widely viewed as the speech that launched Reagan’s political career.

Anticipating that Republican presidential candidates will invoke Reagan in the 2016 primary as they have in previous election cycles, Kengor says he created the list in part so that voters could more precisely match a particularly candidate’s comments with Reagan’s philosophy.

If Rubio does enter the presidential fray, Kengor acknowledges that the Florida Republican will need to address the skeptics of immigration reform who are a potent force within the conservative movement.

After initially supporting the “comprehensive” version of immigration reform as part of the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate last year, Rubio has steadily gravitated away from that position. He now says he favors an incremental approach to reform more in step with what his House Republican colleagues have offered.

“While Rubio did take some hits on immigration, I do think this issue can be turned to his advantage over time,” Kengor suggests. “What gets overlooked is that Rubio’s position is actually very close to where Reagan was.”

In 1986, Reagan signed off on the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, but also provided for tighter border security going forward. That is essentially what Rubio favors, Kengor notes.

“Beyond just the 1986 legislation, Reagan was very pro-immigration,” Kengor observed. “He wanted it to be legal, but Reagan constantly talked of the ‘Shinning City on a Hill,’ and America as a beacon to the world. If the city had to have gates, the gates were open.”

Reagan’s “Belief in the Individual,” Kengor explained, guided his views on immigration in a way that directly connects with Rubio’s biography.

“Reagan constantly identified with the boat people from Cuba and Vietnam in a way that directly connects with Rubio’s biography,” he continued. “These are the people who really get to the roots of Marco Rubio’s story because Rubio is truly the son of immigrants who escaped from an oppressive place to find freedom. His is a uniquely American story.”

There are other Republicans Kengor identifies who embody most, if not all, of the 11 principles, Kengor said. He names Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Even so, Rubio stands out in Kengor’s view, as the one who can connect with Hispanics who are open to conservative ideas.

“Hispanics are too committed to their faith to ever feel comfortable or at home in the rapidly secularizing Democratic Party,” Kengor said. “The Republican Party, or, really the conservative movement, is a far better fit for Hispanics than the liberal, progressive wing of the Democratic Party and they can be pulled over.”

While there are legitimate differences over the shape and direction of immigration reform, conservative critics of Rubio are overlooking some key points, Kengor maintains. For starters, Rubio has a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union (ACU), and he’s a conservative on both economic and social issues, Kengor points out.

“I’m not in the tank for Rubio,” he said. “I don’t work for him and I’m not a cheerleader for him. This is my honest, clinical appraisal as someone who has spent his life studying Ronald Reagan. As I carefully went through these 11 principles, Rubio continually came to mind.”