By most accounts, [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] was the nominal winner of the Republican debate held earlier this month. There were no break out stars from the prime time debate with Carly Fiorina being the obvious star from the earlier debate/forum. This writer has watched and re-watched the debate and has to conclude that if I had to pick a winner, I would agree it was Rubio. He held his own and answered the questions succinctly in the time allotted. There were no “attacks” on him.
In a follow-up appearance at the Redstate gathering (watched on my computer), he was eloquent and comfortable and during the question-and-answer period, he was quick on his feet and engaging with a quick sense of humor. So why then was he so far off center stage at that debate? At one time, he was described as the Republican Party’s “savior.” He was considered a game changer should he enter the race yet when he did his standing fell somewhat. Part of the problem is the quality of candidates this time around. If the field were smaller, perhaps his star would be higher. And some of it may have been misplaced hope upfront.
On the ideological scale, he falls somewhere between Bush and Cruz in GOP politics. He is a proven conservative and receives high marks from Heritage and the American Conservative Union. But, he exudes a moderate demeanor which could be an advantage in a general election. The problem with that is getting through the primary/caucus process where voters tend to be less moderate and more conservative. That is the main problem and it all stems from his inclusion in the Gang of Eight and an immigration reform package.
Contrary to Trump’s assertion that immigration was not an issue before he entered the fray, it stands as a major issue going forward. What may concern Republican voters about Rubio is perhaps not the actual contents of that reform package, but his political naivete in signing onto it. He was the point man to sell the package to a skeptical GOP base and he went on radio and television noting that it was a working plan likely to move more to the right as the legislative process proceeded. The base did not buy it. The question now is whether the Republican base is willing to forgive Rubio this transgression, or do they see this as political naivete? After the deal fell apart, the Democrats were quick to bludgeon Republicans. Rubio was the Hispanic face of the GOP and took the greatest heat from both sides. It was not only a policy blunder, but a political blunder.
And that is some of the knock on Rubio: he is not really that exciting, nor does he display the political acumen at times for the job. People look at the last time we elected a President with little Senate experience and do not want more on-the-job training. Granted, Rubio’s resume at this stage of his political career far outshines that of Obama’s. Further, some pundits say that when Rubio speaks, they hear Mitt Romney and that as a star looking to the future, his rhetoric, at times, is more fitting for the 1980s.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of foreign policy. Here, he is considerably to the right of some of his Republican opponents and some experts have described Rubio as the new face of the neocon movement when it comes to foreign policy. This is somewhat troublesome not only in the primaries, but in a general election. The question is whether the United States is ready for a more interventionist foreign policy so soon after Iraq and Afghanistan. There is still a lot of leeriness among the GOP faithful let alone the general voting population. Perhaps if Rubio can clearly articulate a use of forces abroad policy- an “if-then” policy- he could improve his standing in this area. Ironically, for Rubio to improve, he needs a foreign policy crisis to highlight his view. The way Obama handles foreign policy, the odds are good.
A good candidate can tap into the restive anxieties of the electorate. Look at the surge in the polls Donald Trump received doing just that over immigration. It was not only his star power that propelled him and his plain speaking manner. There are a lot of people who think like he does and he tapped into that. Rubio needs to do the same, perhaps not over immigration, but another subject.
Unlike Hillary, Rubio is uniquely situated to capture middle class anxieties over the economy. His background is true middle class, in fact lower middle class. When the New York Times ran those American Bridge-fed stories about his finances, that was the story of American middle class. He took out a loan from his 401(k) to buy a refrigerator, bought a boat (in Florida) with some of that $800,000 advance on a book, and leased an Audi. What American hasn’t over-extended themselves on credit, or splurged on things with their tax refund? Could Hillary Clinton really portray herself as a member and champion of the middle class against a person who actually lived the life like Rubio (or Cruz, or Walker)? Rubio doesn’t have a slush fund disguised as a charitable organization like Clinton.
Two points before finishing. The first is the belief that Rubio can capture the Hispanic vote by virtue of his name. That remains an immature way of looking at this. Cuban-Americans are not a large percentage of the Hispanic population and be leery of any website that lists this as one of his advantages. The second feature is his youth. There is no Senate to return to should he fail to end up on the eventual ticket. There is the Governor’s race in Florida in 2018. But, if he chooses that route and he wins (no guarantee) and the opportunity should present itself in 2020 for a Presidential run, he will have to make a major decision. This year is a major calculated risk for Rubio. In the interim, there will be the opportunity to let his conservative credentials shine in the Senate.
Rubio’s star may have fallen because it may have peaked too early, but there is still time for it to rise again. He started that process on August 6th. Let’s see what happens from here, but do not count him out just yet.