Consensus opinion from last week is that Carly Fiorina won the second debate – a sentiment that I basically agree with. The scant polling evidence we have since the debate seems to confirm that Fiorina helped her cause dramatically with her performance. And there’s a reason for that: As the newcomer to the stage, and as a candidate who had been involved in a recent, high profile dust-up with Trump, Fiorina got a ton of airtime, particularly in the first hour, and made the most of it.
However, a little noticed exchange during the debate’s second hour illustrated with clarity that [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] was, without a doubt, the most politically talented candidate on the stage – and the one who will be the man to beat in the final analysis, whatever the polls might say now.
The exchange in question concerned the propriety of speaking Spanish – apparently under any circumstances in the United States. Trump, in his brash, Trumpian way, was in the process of blasting Jeb Bush for having the temerity to answer a question in Spanish that was posed to him in Spanish. Bush, in his stammering, Jebbian way, managed to completely fail to defend himself or to make a coherent point that anyone would remember. Then came Rubio to the stage, unprompted, to show amateur hour how it was done:
Dana – I agree that English is the unifying language of our country, and everyone should learn to speak it. It’s important. I want to tell you a story about someone that didn’t speak English that well – it was my grandfather. He came to this country in the 1960s, escaping Cuba, and he lived with us growing up. And my grandfather loved America. He understood what was so special about this country. He loved Ronald Reagan – he’d be very proud of the fact that we’re here this evening. My grandfather instilled in me the belief that I was blessed to live in the one society in human history that even I – the son of a bartender and a maid – could aspire to have anything and be anything that I was willing to work hard to achieve. But he taught me that in Spanish, because it was the language he was most comfortable in. And he became a conservative even though he got his news in Spanish. And so, I do give interviews in Spanish, and here’s why: because I believe that free enterprise and limited government is the best way to help people who are trying to achieve upward mobility. And if they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me, not from a translator at Univision.
Listen, it sounds simple, but not everyone can do this. In the span of about 30 seconds, Rubio started off an answer by letting the audience know that he agreed with their premise – that everyone should learn English – but then told a story that connected with people in a gut level way about encouraging them to not be so hard on people who spoke Spanish on occasion – and finished with a subtle outreach even to the Trump voters, who have been rightly angry about the Donald’s recent problems with Univision front man and amnesty activist Jorge Ramos. And he did it with an easy delivery that was at once polished and did not sound rehearsed.
People and pundits will talk about the differences between the various campaign organizations, and fundraising prowess, and cash on hand, and campaign strategy. That is all fine and well and good – we are in the business of commenting upon and observing all those things here at RedState.
But at the end of the day, there is absolutely no substitute for a good and talented candidate – and there is no way for even the best of campaigns to overcome a bad one. And for whatever missteps or organizational shortcomings (or lack of funds) the Rubio campaign presently has, the simple fact is that he probably belongs in the discussion with Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as to who is the most naturally gifted politician of the last 50 years. Which is why, regardless of what the polls say now, if I were a betting man, I would wager heavily on Marco Rubio walking away from this thing as the eventual nominee – especially now that Trump has essentially cleared the field of his main competition in Florida.
Let me also add, for the sake of clarity, that Rubio would not be my first choice and I’m not even arguing that he should win the nomination. I am just predicting that he will – and I am increasingly confident making that prediction every day that goes by.
It is here I would offer one quibble with Erick’s fine analysis. While I like [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] and I hope he is in this thing to the end, I don’t think that Cruz presents the greatest threat to Rubio getting the nomination – I think at the end of the day that honor belongs to Fiorina, who also was able to show time and time again on that stage that she was able to emotionally connect with voters on issues (like Planned Parenthood funding) that intellectually belonged to [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ]. Time and time again, the voters have displayed that they make voting decisions with their heart and gut, not their head, which is why ultimately, I think Rubio is likely to win out, with Fiorina finishing second.
There’s a long way to go, and some as-yet undiscovered scandal or fatal flaw could well drag Rubio down. But it’s difficult for me to see how this plays out any way other than Rubio emerging victorious, in the end.