- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2015

From Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension to government sugar subsidies, Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday had donors frequently laughing and applauding under a hot Southern California sun.

“I’m a Dolphins fan; I wish the suspension had been permanent,” the U.S. senator from Florida quipped when asked about the NFL’s four-game suspension — now before the courts — of the New England Patriots’ MVP quarterback.

“I wish the Dolphins’ first four games were with the Patriots,” Mr. Rubio said.

That drew the heartiest applause so far from an audience of some 450 invitees at a two-day GOP presidential hopefuls forum sponsored by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker similarly auditioned before the same Freedom Partners group on Saturday, also drawing their share of guffaws and clapping.

Mr. Rubio’s toughest question for his solo interview with Mike Allen of Politico was whether he was being hypocritical by blasting corporate welfare while supporting federal taxpayers’ subsidies to Florida sugar producers year after year.

Sounding matter-of-fact rather than defensive, he said he would stop subsidizing U.S. producers if foreign governments like Brazil also cut off subsidies to their sugar growers.

But a one-sided end to subsidies, he said, would mean that U.S. producers of food would lose their market share, their land would be sold for commercial-building purposes, and the U.S. eventually would become a net food importer.

That drew applause from an audience that understands markets and generally opposes crony capitalism and corporate welfare, as the Koch brothers do, but who, like Mr. Rubio, want subsidies to end across the board, lest Koch Industries be put at a competitive disadvantage.

With one foot in the GOP establishment and the other in the tea party side of his party. Mr. Rubio, 44, is running fourth behind real estate developer Donald Trump, Mr. Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the average of the most recent five national polls.

Asked what posture he planned to assume in Thursday’s Fox News GOP candidates’ debate in Cleveland, “I’ll be standing,” he said without skipping a beat. Again appreciative laughter from an audience that was judging him for the moment as secure enough in himself to joke and still answer serious questions with serious-sounding policy recommendations.

Mr. Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, said that as president he would use executive authority to implement laws that Congress passed rather than do what he claimed President Obama does: change the laws to suit his personal worldview.

Again, there was applause.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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