Is Marco Rubio the Republican Barack Obama? Let’s hope so. Admittedly, I’ve suppressed a few memories from the past eight years, but didn’t that guy win two elections, and also deliver the top item on his supporters’ policy wish list? I thought so.
I’m greedy. I do actually want more. I want a conservative Obama for the next ten months, but once the victory party’s over, I don’t want him to similarly morph into a bitter and schoolmarmish Haranguer-In-Chief.
Instead, I want the kind of charismatic leader who can build coalitions, pursue reasonable policy reforms, and persuade younger voters to give conservatism a chance. It’s a lot to ask, but I think it’s what we need. Rubio is the last man standing who conceivably might be that guy.
Rejoice! The Establishment Is Defeated!
Let’s clear a few of the stupid arguments out of the way. Desperate competitors have been arguing that Rubio is too green to be president. It could be true, but it’s irrelevant. The experience train has left the station. Voters are clearly in no mood this year to settle for a member of the old guard.
Among the live contenders, Rubio has as much experience as any. (Yes, he does have real accomplishments to his name, starting with this. He may have been blindsided by Chuck Schumer in 2013, but the man has some savvy political instincts.)
Yes, he is obviously ambitious. Ted Cruz isn’t? It’s fair to say this is an occupational hazard of people who volunteer themselves as fit to lead the free world.
Equally foolish is the claim that Rubio’s “establishment” connections make him untrustworthy. Ironically, one of the main purveyors of this smear is Jeb Bush. Finding himself seated atop a massive war chest with no real path to the White House, Bush used those dollars to spread the message that Rubio is a shifty, scheming establishment stooge. Aren’t these political ironies fun?
Right now, Chris Christie, Bush, and Cruz all have Rubio directly in their sights. Everyone knows he is the man to beat. That means that, unlike Donald Trump (who has been draped with fawning media sycophants for months), Rubio has come through the juggernaut. He’s vetted. If you’re looking for the candidate who has already survived a maelstrom of establishment fury, Rubio is your man.
It’s true enough that he’s emerging as the remaining “establishment favorite.” I suspect this explains the vibe I’m getting from some conservative friends who complain that while Rubio seems to have all the right pieces, they’re “just not feeling it.” I get it. They gave themselves permission to fall for a bad boy this time around, and Rubio is starting to look plausibly presidential. It feels like a let-down.
Here’s the reality, though. At some point in the electoral process, your candidate has to start looking plausible or you will lose. Rubio’s background is anything but “establishment.” But it is true that his political gifts may enable him to pull the coalition back together in time to win the general election. That’s a plus, not a liability.
Here Comes Socialism
Now would be the perfect time to get it together, because over on the other side of the line, the signs are ominous. A self-identified socialist has a very real chance of winning the nomination. Even if he doesn’t, his popularity shows that socialism is no longer an ugly word among young people. Almost half of Americans under 30 say their associations with socialism are positive, which explains why Sen. Bernie Sanders absolutely dominated among young Democrats in Iowa.
The good news for conservatives is that the Democrats are a mess. They’re nowhere close to getting their affairs in order. This is an opening for us, if we can pull ourselves together enough to take advantage of it.
The bad news, though, is that this would be a very bad election to lose, and we definitely could. Nominating Trump is the best way to do that. Americans are already very familiar with Trump’s persona, and they dislike him intensely (even more than they do Hillary Clinton). Cruz would be a better choice, but would still be very likely to lose.
Rubio polls better in every demographic. Electability isn’t everything, but given two very conservative candidates with extremely similar platforms, why not pick the one more likely to win?
There’s more bad news, unfortunately. Remember back in 2013, when every conversation came back to the need to grow the conservative base? That problem hasn’t gone away, and far from souring on their experience with progressivism, today’s young people are walking around calling themselves socialists. We can’t afford to throw caution to the wind right now by nominating someone who flatters us and panders to our own insecurities.
It’s essential at this moment to find a spokesman who can make the pitch for conservatism, winning new converts, and reversing alarming trends. Consider the three figures still standing tall on the primary stage. Which one stands a chance of starting the next Reagan Revolution?
The Stealth Conservative
If, like me, you liked Rubio long before he was a serious presidential contender, it stings to read multiple accounts of how he’s everyone’s number two. He was my number one even back in the “clown car” chapter of this primary season. His talent is just obvious, and he has an inspiring up-by-the-bootstraps story that general-election voters will love. He’s a man of serious religious faith and consistent pro-life convictions. Also, he defeated Charlie Crist! And Jeb Bush hates him! In what universe is this our establishment stooge?
On a substantive level, Rubio has long showed a deep and sustained interest in responsible policy reform. This seems important to me in a political environment where many candidates offer boatload of empty moral indignation for every ounce of policy smarts.
With a Tea Party background, Rubio understands the logic of small government, but he can also hold his own with the wonks and political strategists. He was talking about the “hollowing out of the middle class” long before Trump’s demagoguing brought that anxiety to full boil. He might be able to convert “the party of No” into something more constructive, and he’s also the only candidate who stands even a fair chance of shoring up the GOP’s relationship with frustrated middle-class voters, without abandoning critical initiatives like entitlement reform.
Thus far, this election season has been good for adrenaline junkies, but bad for coronary health. The conflagration of populist angst might still consume conservatism completely, leaving us in a bleak world of endless identity politics. On the other hand, populist chaos might end up being a plus if it helps us refine our agenda (for instance, on immigration) while enabling a staunchly conservative candidate like Rubio to present himself to the public as a moderate. (For his noble service as the “bad cop” in this stratagem, I think Cruz would definitely deserve a nomination to SCOTUS.)
It’s been fun giving the suits their turn in the panic room, but at this point “the establishment” has resoundingly lost. It’s time for conservatives to re-unite now so the Democrats can also lose. As a sharp, savvy, and very conservative candidate, Rubio is the best “compromise candidate” conservative voters could ever hope to find.