Marco Rubio announced his candidacy for presidency of the United States at the Freedom Tower in Miami on Monday, highlighting his family’s hardscrabble immigrant roots, embracing traditional values but also vowing to usher in a “new American century.”
As a matter of political pragmatism, is there any convincing reason Rubio shouldn’t be the Republican to take on Hillary Clinton in 2016? Because when it comes to natural political talent, it unlikely the GOP can do better.
For starters, Rubio is the most compelling speaker in the Republican field.
Sen. Mike Lee says Rubio “can bring grown men to tears with emotion.” This is something voters value. And judging from yesterday’s performance, Rubio’s speeches can be infused with an emotional quality that much of the prefabricated rhetoric we hear does not have. Not only do you sense that his belief in American exceptionalism is genuine, but that his populist sensibilities will allow him to credibly broach the subject of inequality – mostly, because he has a captivating family story to lean on.
Let’s face it, even if Rubio is overrated, he’s probably the kind of consensus candidate GOP primary voters are going to have to settle on, anyway.
Other than his futile shot at immigration reform, Rubio has been reliably conservative. The Jeb Bush candidacy, driven by oodles of cash but little popular support, makes Rubio seem more palatable, while the Cruz candidacy, almost exclusively propelled by the grassroots, makes him seem less severe. The money and votes will gravitate to whoever can win – if, that is, the person is somewhat ideologically acceptable to the rank and file.
As Politico points out:
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last month reflected that upside among the rank-and-file. More Republicans, 56 percent, said they could back Rubio than any other candidate, including Bush (49 percent). Only one-quarter in that survey said they could not back Rubio, compared to 42 percent for Bush.
Rand Paul? As appealing as libertarian-ish ideas probably are to a number of voters – and you hope that the GOP embraces some of these reforms – it seems unlikely that the entire party can undergo a historic ideological shift during a primary season. That is especially true on foreign policy. Rubio is a hawk, and world events insure that a hawk will win the GOP nomination.
After a temporary dovish turn, the Right has gotten more aggressive on foreign policy. Some of this is, no doubt, a reaction to President Obama’s polices on Iran, Russia, ISIS, and Israel. According to a Pew poll taken late last year, 54 percent of Americans overall believed that Obama’s approach on foreign policy was “not tough enough” – which includes a sizable majority of Republicans. Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is one of the more passionate advocates for a more aggressive United States in the world.
Now, it’s also true that Rubio is a first-term senator with no record of any tangible accomplishments other than working his way into a presidential run.
If you believe this is a disadvantage, you haven’t been paying attention to contemporary politics. If Americans were concerned with achievement, Barack Obama would never have been allowed near the presidency. What voters want is someone who makes them feel secure, someone who can empathize with their struggles, confirm their ideological worldview, and someone who will give them the soaring rhetoric that makes them feel that their politics matter.
So, for Rubio, a lack of a record may be helpful in a number of ways. Today, a record is an opportunity for others to mangle every decision you’ve made. A blank slate allows voters to imagine all the wondrous things you can provide them and allows the politician a malleable set of policy goals.
To be fair, as a member of a congressional minority, Rubio didn’t really have many opportunities to build a record. Still, in the primaries, GOP contenders (who aren’t senators) are going to have tough time accusing Rubio of being slacker. What will they say? He wasn’t obstinate enough in stopping Obama’s agenda in the Senate? To some extent, Obama has also inculcated Rubio from media attacks regarding his experience as a first-term senator running for president, for obvious reasons.
The Left’s reaction to Rubio’s announcement also tells us that the Florida senator is a formidable pick. There were far fewer histrionic hit pieces about a GOP candidate’s extremism than usual. If the most potent attack mocking a candidate is a single awkward water-bottle incident, then demonizing him won’t be easy. Whereas liberals quickly found distractions for nearly all other presidential announcements – Rand Paul is a misogynistic hothead with crazy ideas; Ted Cruz is nutty theocrat with crazy ideas – the Left was grasping for an effective line of attack.
Don’t get me wrong. In the end, no matter what Republican candidate offers, he will be cast as a thug looking to steal bread and condoms from the poorest single working moms in the country. So the most vital skill any candidate can have is the ability transcend coverage and make his or her case to voters. Setting aside reservations about policy, is there any other Republican who can do that more effectively than Rubio?
Of course someone – maybe Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Lindsay Graham, and who knows who else? – can change the dynamics of the race. Perhaps someone will surprise us. Although, it seems unlikely any of them could be the kind of compromise candidate that the establishment and the rank-and-file could agree on. And none of them will be able to contrast themselves with a tedious and creaky Hillary rollout the way Rubio just did.