Marco Rubio auditioned this week to be Mitt Romney's running mate by campaigning with the presumptive Republican nominee in Pennsylvania and then giving what was billed as a major foreign policy address at the Brookings Institution, an important Washington think tank.
The speech was better on substance than delivery. The freshman senator from Florida appeared nervous, halting and one point unprepared when he was missing the last page of his speech. At times he looked like he hadn't done more than glance at his text before going up on stage.
He is among the more prominent of several possible candidates the Romney staff is looking at. The campaign reportedly has begun the vetting process that includes going through the mountain of paperwork, back tax returns, public utterances, family history and detailed questionnaires.
Rubio said earlier this month that he wasn't interested in the job, but what else could he say? The vice presidency is a post no one runs for or from, at least openly. To admit wanting it is an automatic disqualifier. Denial can be tricky because it might really be mistaken for a genuine lack of interest.
Rubio is an appealing candidate who seems to complement Romney on several levels where the once and future Massachusetts moderate is weak. He is young (40, Romney is 65), charismatic, close to tea parties and Hispanic.
The freshman senator, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on intelligence, criticized the Republican Party's drift toward isolationism and stressed the importance of American being engaged around the globe.
The Washington Post said his Brookings speech sounded "more like Obama than Romney," citing his advocacy of an activist foreign policy that emphasizes keeping the peace, promoting democracy and trade and investing in foreign aid and global health.
He mentioned Israel only in the context of the uprising in Syria and the nuclear threat from Iran. He did not discuss the Arab-Israeli peace beyond saying it would be best served by removing the Assad regime in Damascus.
He said some of his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "are so concerned about the challenges of a post-Assad Syria that they have lost sight of the advantages of it.” Removing Assad would mean Iran and Hizbullah would lose a close ally and that would be good news for Israel and Lebanon. He did not advocate American intervention.
“The goal of preventing a dominant Iran is so important that every regional policy we adopt should be crafted with that overriding goal in mind,” he said. He added that a diplomatic solution is preferable but "if all else fails, preventing a nuclear Iran may require a military solution."
In the Q&A afterwards, asked if he would back an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, he repeated his preference for diplomacy and sanctions but said "no option should be off the table."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) the former Democrat who endorsed the Republican candidate in the last election but is uncommitted so far this year, introduced Rubio as a "rising star in the next generation of America's foreign policy leaders" and called him principled, patriotic and practical."