Marco Rubio could've been just another Florida Man on Tuesday night.
On Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Jon Stewart chided the senator from Florida and likely presidential contender, his guest that night, for his state's "issues," ticking off examples of what has become a joke in newscasts around the country: a South Florida man who'd tried to hit his employees with a lizard, another resident who died after choking on an insect at a cockroach-eating contest.
But Rubio, who took the ribbing in stride ("You're a candidate for a lizard beating," he joked to Stewart), said there were plenty of great things about living in Florida. For one, the state doesn't have income tax.
"What does it say about the state when that's the lure?" Stewart balked. "Your selling point is, 'It's free!'"
Rubio then switched tacks, promoting Florida's sunny weather, saying that it rarely snows in the state. "You should open with that," Stewart joked.
The senator was on the show to promote his new book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. Invoking his family's history—his father was a bartender, his mother a maid—Rubio said he was disheartened that the pathway up to the middle class was narrowing, becoming "impossible for a lot of people."
When people read the news, he said, they see that "the economy is doing great, all these jobs are being created, and yet they don't feel it in their own lives," he said. "They're a broken-down car away from feeling like there's a disaster. So the question is, whose fault is it, right? And the answer is, it's not just that it's someone's fault, there's an economic restructuring that's taken place, and our policies haven't adjusted."
One way to combat that, he said, is to change the way earned income tax credits work. The federal dollars, he argued, should be opened up to single workers and function as a wage enhancement doled out in workers' paychecks. "The theory is, I'd much rather have someone working and subsidize that through their earned income tax credit than have them collecting long-term unemployment."
Stewart pushed back on Rubio's claim that "government has a role to play," asking whether his base—the tea-party voters who helped sweep him to victory in 2010—would approve of the big government policy proposals.
"Look at you, trapped between two worlds." Stewart said faux-ruefully. For Rubio to become president, Stewart pointed out, he'd have to move to the right of the policies laid out in his book.
Rubio, it seems, doesn't agree. "What two worlds? It's the same world."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.