Over the weekend, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, whose political perspective I nearly always agree with, said if he had to put money on the race for the Republican nomination, he’d bet on Marco Rubio. Literally one minute later, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, whose views are also usually in line with mine, endorsed Kornacki’s argument.
Vox, which has been singing Rubio’s praises for quite a while, added yesterday that the Florida senator is the biggest beneficiary of Scott Walker’s withdrawal.
To be sure, yesterday was clearly a good day for the far-right senator. From the outset, the political establishment viewed a triumvirate of candidates as the GOP’s likely nominee – Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker – and now that trio stands as a duo. What’s more, the latest CNN poll found only four Republicans reaching double digits: Rubio and the three outsiders who’ve never served a day in public office.
Is it any wonder Rubio is suddenly the “it” candidate? TPM’s Josh Marshall did a nice job summarizing the senator’s standing.
…I’ve never seen Rubio as a very strong candidate. He seems to lack the skills to make it in a national campaign. And his failure with immigration reform – both in choosing it as his signature issue and in fumbling it after he did – is telling on a number of levels. But he’s made few mistakes in this campaign and he seems to be slowing edging up in the polls…. Put simply, he remains viable and undamaged, even though his campaign to date has been undistinguished.I have no doubt that the folks who are running Rubio’s campaign would use different adjectives. They’d have a more positive gloss. But I strongly suspect they see it in the same basic terms. He’s far from on fire. But he’s undamaged while his real opponents are either imploding or fizzling. The visuals and numbers show little reason for optimism. But I suspect they believe the structural logic of the contest is encouraging for Rubio and that time is on his side.They’re right.
And to be sure, that structural logic is compelling. Many observers – inside the Republican Party and out – simply assume as a matter of course that the Inexperienced Three will eventually fizzle, leaving a race featuring only a handful of credible contenders. The list will likely include two establishment governors (Jeb Bush and John Kasich) and two very conservative senators (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio).
In this scenario, is this a contest that could elevate Rubio to the GOP nomination? Of course it is.
But some root problems remain for Rubio that are too often overlooked. The Florida Republican has spent most of adult life running for one office or another, making him – practically by definition – a career politician. There’s a fair amount of evidence that isn’t what the GOP base is looking for in the 2016 cycle.
Complicating matters, Rubio has spent most of adult life as a politician, and has very little to show for his efforts. He has no meaningful accomplishments, no signature issues, and he’s never demonstrated an expertise in any area of public policy. On the contrary, the senator has developed a reputation as a lawmaker who doesn’t show up for work as often as he probably should.
And then, of course, there’s immigration. This isn’t complicated: the Republican base hated the bipartisan reform package in 2013 and Rubio helped write it (before abandoning what would have been his sole legislative success story).
Rubio isn’t especially popular in Florida, and he hasn’t exactly won over his own colleagues – to date, he has exactly zero endorsements from the Senate Republicans he’s worked alongside for the last half-decade. These aren’t automatic disqualifiers, and the far-right senator’s path to the nomination is clearly visible, but they’re also relevant parts of Rubio’s background that haven’t yet been litigated in earnest.