After frittering away his reputation as a conservative stalwart earlier this year, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is making a concerted push to reaffirm his Tea Party bona fides.
Rubio, apparently a gifted speed-reader, on Tuesday denounced the very modest, bipartisan budget agreement struck by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) within minutes of its announcement. He said in a statement that the deal "opens the floodgates" to higher spending, and "has no long-term plan in place to deal with the very serious debt problem that threatens our future."
"It's not just this budget — it's this lack of long-term thinking around here," he added, in a none-too-subtle play at recapturing the populist rage that catapulted him to office. "There are no long-term solutions apparently possible in Washington, and we are running out of time."
The strong stance aligns Rubio neatly with the right wing of the party, where Tea Party purists have rejected the mere whiff of bipartisan compromise. "This bill is not designed to get our vote," Tea Party firebrand Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), said Wednesday, because it is "designed to pass with bipartisan support in the House."
Once a conservative darling heralded as the GOP's savior, Rubio ruined his credibility on the right by pursuing immigration reform. In June, with his bill nearing passage in the Senate, an ABC News survey found Rubio's net popularity among Republicans had dropped an astonishing 18 points on the year.
Since then, Rubio has dashed to the right, embracing the government shutdown and playing the role of cheerleader for Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) anti-ObamaCare talkathon. And when the shutdown ended, he fought to stay in the spotlight by quickly introducing a bill to roll back ObamaCare's individual mandate.
He's now spurning the House leadership, most of which supports the budget deal, in yet another effort to burnish his conservative reputation. And moreover, he's directly challenging another conservative darling with presumed 2016 aspirations: Paul Ryan.
On the surface, that's not a bad idea for someone clamoring to ingratiate himself with Tea Party types who feel jilted by the party establishment. But fanatical opposition to anything remotely resembling functional government can easily come off as dangerously foolish and unserious.
To wit, here's how Ryan reacted to Rubio's criticism in a Thursday appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe:
That's one heck of a "Seriously, guy?" face, which he followed up with a pointed burn. "Read the deal and get back to me," he said. "People are going to do what they need to do. In the minority, you don't have the burden of governing, of getting things done."
To summarize Ryan's attitude toward Rubio:
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) bemoaned that conservative groups attacking the deal were "using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals," and accused them of acting "ridiculous."
Rubio is desperately trying to win back his conservative cred. But in his frenetic attempts to do so, he, too, is at risk of looking ridiculous.