Both want to run for president, or keep the option wide open. So each is trying to change his own image — and with it, the Republican Party’s — starting Tuesday night with dueling speeches at the Jack Kemp Foundation’s awards dinner
While Congress dawdled this summer, Rubio, 41, assigned his policy experts to figure out ways to help make the middle class wealthier — and add a dose of substance to the charismatic presidential hopeful’s résumé. Reaching out to academics and think tanks to build Rubio’s network, the senator and his staff developed a two-year reinvention project and an “upward mobility agenda,” including programs like early childhood education, school choice and incentives for entrepreneurs. Those are some of the proposals he’ll test-drive at the Kemp Foundation dinner, where he’ll receive the group’s second leadership award. The first winner: Paul Ryan.
Rubio also plans new ideas on immigration, aimed not at broad citizenship but at creating a bigger Hispanic middle class. “The answer,” Rubio will say in his after-dinner remarks, “is not to make rich people poorer. The answer is to make poor people richer.” If he makes the sale in countless such appearances over the next two years, he’ll begin a formal presidential campaign shortly after the midterm elections of November 2014, Rubio sources tell us.
Ryan, 42, will kick off his own drive to redefine the party — and himself — as the pre-dinner keynote speaker before 300-plus conservative faithful on the same stage, detailing his thinking on how people of all classes can rise up economically and improve socially. Top Republicans tell us Ryan tried to push his ideas for a more creative “war on poverty” during the presidential campaign but was muzzled by nervous Nellies at Mitt Romney’s Boston headquarters who didn’t see an immediate political payoff. So Ryan seethed when the “47 percent” tape emerged, convinced that the impact was worse because the campaign had no record on issues relating to inclusion or poverty, exacerbating the out-of-touch image that the hidden camera cemented.
Republicans are eager for both men to perform an image makeover on a party dominated by older, straight, white men.
Ironically, Romney’s double debacle of getting caught on tape lampooning the “47 percent” of voters who get government benefits, then blaming those “gift”-getters for his defeat, has created an enormous opening for Rubio, Ryan and other 2016 hopefuls. Suddenly, even Sean Hannity seems hungry for some change.