In sports, whenever there is a prohibitive favorite that has to compete against a crowded field (especially in sports where the outcome is hard to predict), a popular game sports talkers like to play is to play “Prohibitive favorite vs. the field – who would you pick?” For example, in the NCAA basketball tournament this year, Kentucky was a roughly even bet to win the tournament against the entire field of 63 other teams. When Tiger Woods was in his top form, analysts used to comment on every tournament in terms of Tiger vs. the Field. So on and so forth.
So with the caveat that it’s way, super early, and we have a ton of time to go before the first votes are cast, it’s time to view the 2016 primary campaign in terms of Rubio vs. the Field.
I don’t just say that because Rubio has taken a small lead in both of the two most recent national polls (over Walker and Bush), although the fact that he has shown some evidence that he has polling power to match his natural political talent is definitely a bonus for him at this stage. This is simply a reflection of the fact that Rubio is qualitatively different as a candidate from the rest of the field.
In an age where voters (especially Republican ones) are increasingly cynical and jaded about politicians, Rubio is the only guy on the right who can legitimately resonate and change minds in his stump speeches (as opposed to merely fire up those who already support him). He is media savvy enough not to immolate himself with an embarrassing answer to a gotcha question.
His negatives, contrary to what his detractors say, are not likely to be fatal. I understand that Rubio’s stance on immigration will make him anathema to a certain segment of the GOP primary electorate, but that segment is neither so large nor so influential as they like to believe, at least on a national scale (for evidence of this, witness GWB’s election in 2000 and [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ]’s nomination in 2008). His lack of experience will be a point of attack on the campaign trail but ultimately, the GOP has been longing for an effective communicator of their ideas who inspires optimism and hope, and Rubio is far and away the guy who fits this bill more than anyone in the field.
Obviously, questions remain about Rubio’s fundraising, and as he goes throughout the vetting process, he may well have skeletons in his closet or undisclosed issues that the glare of a Presidential campaign will reveal. Maybe he will do something unexpected in public that will doom his campaign. Maybe someone else will catch fire or some issue will come to the forefront that will cause Rubio to be shunted aside. It’s far, far too early to turn this into anything resembling a coronation.
But if the game right now is Rubio vs. the Field, I’d call the odds even toss right now.