Marco Rubio thinks sugar subsidies protect us from terrorists. Or something.
The Republican presidential candidate is taking heat from the right for comments he made about a controversial federal program, and it could make his life a little complicated.
The Florida senator is far from being the front-runner, but he seems to be in a good place; his favorable ratings are quite lofty, his debate performance drew plaudits from all the right people, and he’s managed to carve out a niche for himself as a smart guy on defense issues. If the immigration fever breaks and those issues return to prominence, then Rubio could have some explaining to do.
That’s because earlier in August in a speech at an event Politico dubbed “a Koch love fest,” the presidential contender and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member said he thinks we need to give tax dollars to sugar barons because otherwise the terrorists will win.
Okay, that’s not exactly what he said, but it’s close. The senator told attendees that he would only favor ending federal financial perks for the sugar industry if other countries did the same thing—in other words, when it comes to sugar subsidies, Rubio opposes unilateral disarmament.
“[H]ere’s why,” he told attendees, per National Review. “Otherwise, Brazil will wipe out our agriculture and it’s not just sugar.”
Our agriculture. All those big red barns. Gone. Poof.
“Other countries will capture the market share, our agricultural capacity will be developed into real estate, you know, housing and so forth, and then we lose the capacity to produce our own food, at which point we’re at the mercy of a foreign country for food security,” he continued.
God forbid we get things from other countries. The sugar program, by the way, spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to drive up the cost of sugar and keep the sugar industry profitable. Conservatives, as a general rule, hate it and see it as an example of the expensive cronyism that props up well-connected industries at the expense of taxpayers and consumers.
This isn’t the first time Rubio has suggested federal handouts for the sugar industry are basically the only thing between us and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. When he voted against ending the sugar program in 2012, the senator put out a press release with an impassioned defense of the sugar status quo.
“Our food security and, therefore, our national security depends on it,” he wrote.
In National Review on Monday, columnist Windsor Mann ripped Rubio a new one over the comments.
“Let’s try to untangle this,” he wrote. “If we get rid of sugar subsidies, Americans will turn their sugar farms into condominium lots and start buying sugar from foreigners, who will starve us until we surrender to ISIS. Or something like that.”
“Obesity causes deaths,” he continued. “Sugar causes obesity. The government subsidizes sugar. You subsidize the government. You subsidize death. The terrorists win. This syllogism makes at least as much sense as what Rubio said.”
I emailed Rubio’s team to see if they had thoughts on this summation of the senator’s views—that there’s a causal link between the existence of sugar subsidies and the fact that there isn’t yet an Islamic State El Paso. They didn’t get back to me.
In the meantime, though, here’s something interesting: One of Rubio’s most open-handed donors is also—this will stun you—a major benefactor of the the sugar subsidies that protect us from al Qaeda. Pepe Fanjul, a south Florida sugar magnate, was listed on an invitation for one of Rubio’s first big-deal fundraisers when he started running for Senate in 2010, according to SaintPetersBlog.
Since then, Rubio has been a constant benefactor of Fanjul’s largesse. As The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney notes, Fanjul and his son both maxed out to Rubio in the early days of his campaign and hosted a number of fundraisers for him over the course of the contest. Fanjul has also given generously to the Rubio-affiliated Reclaim America PAC. The Washington Post noted that Fanjul was “introducing him to well-heeled donors.” Naturally, Fanjul is helping Rubio’s presidential campaign fundraise as well. And he was there to give him a big hug right after the senator announced his presidential bid. They seem tight.
Vanity Fair ran a lengthy piece about Fanjul’s sugar empire in 2011, noting that he and his brother Alfy—a Democrat—have remarkable access to the politicians they boost, and reap cushy benefits from those relationships. Alfy co-chaired Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid in the state, according to the magazine, and developed a cozy relationship with the then-Arkansas governor.
“The most telling thing about Alfy Fanjul is that he can get the president of the United States on the telephone in the middle of a blow job,” said Carl Hiaasen, a columnist for the Miami Herald.
It isn’t just Fanjul. In 2014—when he wasn’t even up for reelection—Rubio was one of the senators to benefit most from sugar money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But hey, who wouldn’t want to take money from an industry that both produces a tasty coffee accompaniment and keeps America safe from another 9/11?