Last year, Marco Rubio ended up on the cover of The New York Times magazine with the headline "The First Senator from the Tea Party?" Well, there's no question anymore about whether or not he's a Senator, but now that he is, he's not so sure he wants to join the actual Tea Party caucus. It's not that he still doesn't absolutely love that gang of enthusiastic, misspelled-sign-waving grass rooters, it's just that he's worried that politicians will subvert the true meaning of the Tea Party.
"Why do we need something in addition to the steering committee?" Rubio told conservative website The Shark Tank. "My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of 'Tea Party'. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that's happening in Washington D.C., the 'Tea Party' all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians...it's gonna lose its effectiveness and I'm concerned about that. I think that the real power of the Tea Party comes from its ability to drive the debate and the issues from the grassroots up, as opposed to from the politicians down."
Newly elected Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky organized the caucus, which also includes Sen. Mike Lee and close Rubio ally Sen. Jim DeMint, but Rubio was nowhere to be seen at their first meeting last week.
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While Rubio had embraced the Tea Party's support, he's always been hesitant to identify himself too broadly with the movement. There's something to be said about worrying about joining political fads. Who knows what the movement will look like by the time Rubio is up for re-election in 2016, and Rubio also knows that Florida's political mood can shift wildly.
Instead of becoming an official Tea Partier, Rubio is joining the Conservative Steering Committee in order to champion conservative ideas.