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Val Demings must have Marco Rubio really worried

Obviously, the prospect of having to run against a former police chief frightens Rubio, so he immediately went to name-calling and guilt by association.

Rep. Val Demings
Rep. Val Demings shown speaking during a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.
Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS

Is Sen. Marco Rubio a fascist?

He’ll probably say he isn’t. And he’ll say it’s unfair to even raise the question. And he might be right. But he’s voted for fascist things, especially if whoever wants to accuse him of fascist tendencies gets to decide the boundaries of fascism.

Rubio has been a steadfast supporter of Donald Trump since Trump won the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, even though he called Trump a “con artist” and Trump’s statements “lunacy” back when Rubio was running against Trump for the 2016 nomination.

And, unless you want to nominate someone else, Trump is as close to a fascist as any president in U.S. history. So there’s that.

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Wondering out loud if someone is a fascist used to be considered irresponsible and reprehensible, and I wish it still was. But it has become vaguely defensible according to the current norms of rhetorical attacks employed by many Republicans, including Rubio. So, although it borders on indefensible, I thought I’d just try it out. I fear that a great deal of the next period in U.S. politics will be conservatives calling liberals socialists and maybe liberals calling conservatives fascists.

Oh joy.

Allow me to explain by returning to normal rhetoric and providing a little background.

Rubio is up for reelection next year as a U.S. senator from Florida. One of the Democrats who might challenge him is U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a former police officer of almost 30 years’ experience who rose to be chief of the Orlando Police Department before winning a seat in Congress. Demings distinguished herself as one of the House managers of the 2020 impeachment trial against Donald Trump.

Rubio is apparently scared of Demings, so he welcomed her possible entry into the race by calling her a socialist, linking her to “the Squad,” linking her to Nancy Pelosi and calling Demings, a mainstream liberal with a police background, a “far-left, liberal extremist.”

I’m trying to remember back to when I had a little more respect for Rubio, but it’s hard to look past what the Trump years did to his reputation (and the reputation of many other Republicans for whom I formerly had more respect).

Obviously, the prospect of having to run against a former police chief frightens Rubio, so he immediately went to name-calling and guilt by association. Some members of the “Squad,” including Minnesota’s own Ilhan Omar, have embraced the term “socialist” to describe themselves. (Demings never has.) Republicans love the s-word in mindless attack rhetoric.

So, as reported by the Washington Post, when asked about Demings, Rubio dismissed any description of her as a moderate with ex-cop credentials, and lumped her in with “the Squad” on the way to implying and more than implying that she is a “socialist.”

“None of them will admit to being a socialist,” Rubio said. “She [Demings] probably won’t. But she certainly has voted for socialist things,” Rubio argued.

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“How can you vote with ‘the Squad’ 94% of the time and argue that you’re not an honorary member of that group? How can you vote with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time and argue that you’re not a far-left, liberal extremist? So she’ll have to answer to that, or whoever their candidate is will have to answer to what their voting record is.”

Actually, Rubio was incorrect. There are members of “the Squad,” including Minnesotan Ilhan Omar, who embrace the S-word. But Demings never has, not even slightly. Nor could she be fairly or honestly accused of being a socialist, if the term has any meaning outside of Republican name-calling. She’s a somewhat liberal, somewhat moderate ex-cop who scares Rubio politically so he thought he’d drop the S-word on her and see if it helped him.

I dearly wish we could get back to arguing about actual policy differences across party lines rather than deploying words like fascism and socialism. But I’m not hopeful.

A lot of the reporting and quotes and factual backup for this piece came from this Washington Post analysis. But Post analyst Philip Bump managed to get through his piece without mentioning fascism.