I have publicly been very reticent in disclosing my feelings about which candidate I would ultimately support for the Republican nomination.
This was for many reasons. First and foremost, I believed entering this year, this was going to be the deepest and most engaging field in modern history. I believed that we would have a host of Governors leading the pack, because of their extensive executive experience. And I thought that separating out of the elites from the also-rans was going to be difficult.
I am not sure any of those assumptions came to be true.
Because of a myriad of factors, this cycle has largely been devoid of in-depth policy discussions. The vast majority of news media has been focused on clownish, superficial nonsense that nobody other than the most inane of insiders really cared about. This was especially highlighted by the October 26th CNBC debate.
But as we have progressed through the process, I think several candidates have risen above the fray, and focused on the issues that are at the forefront of the problems that face this country going forward. And I think one candidate so far has stood above the rest.
That candidate is Senator Marco Rubio.
But let me take a step back, and tell you why I have been reluctant to jump on to the Rubio bandwagon. I am willing to wager that for many that are concerned about him for one reason or another, the complaints sound similar and echo the same worries and concerns.
There are two in particular that come to mind.
The first issue for most was Rubio’s involvement in the Gang of Eight immigration deal. In 2013, I myself called for rejection of that plan for various reasons that can be read here. Even at that time, I stated that Rubio was making a fundamental political mistake. Here was a quote about my concern in April 2013:
Furthermore, this will be a moment of truth for several Republicans, most notably Sen. Marco Rubio. I believe he has been honest in his belief that there is a conservative based solution to this. And in all honesty, I am surprised he has gotten the security promises that are seen in this deal. The unfortunate part is that going forward, I am not sure that the security portion of this plan is at all achievable, and even worse, there is no definitive way to prove one way or another if it has been achieved.
The same argument that has been made for a decade stands: border security first. The repeat of the 1986 immigration failure cannot be allowed again. And until that is shown to be the case, I remain a skeptic.
Like many others, my statement was prophetic. The bill collapsed upon its own false promises and flawed logic, and Rubio has taken much of the blame. The Gang of Eight always focused too much on the legalization process, and not far enough on securing the border…exactly backwards of how I see any solution to the immigration problem evolving.
After hearing Rubio speak on several occasions about immigration, I believe he realizes the fundamental mistake he made. The focus must be on securing the border and verifying the legality of all workers in the country. Only after doing that, can we move forward into a process of providing some kind of permanent legal status for the illegal aliens in the country today.
Thhis will always be a weakness for Rubio, however, because some people will never trust him after this mistake. And I can understand that; his lack of understanding of the dynamics of the politics surrounding immigration in 2013 was surprisingly tone-deaf. However, I am not a single issue voter, and never have been. I admit I am still wary about his immigration positions, but I do believe he understands now why any comprehensive bill will fail. I don’t really believe he would move forward with such a bill, and would hope he focuses on security first, as he has promised.
The second issue for me is one that Rubio may never be able to answer: his relative inexperience. I think his background as Senator has given him a sound footing on foreign policy. Frankly, he has been the most steadfast and eloquent on foreign policy issues on either side of the aisle (Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton included). Rubio has shown a level of nuance and understanding of complex foreign policy dynamics that we definitely did not see from Senator Barack Obama 8 years ago.
However, President Obama highlights the fundamental weakness in Rubio’s resume: the lack of any executive experience. Through out the process, my favorite candidates were governors (most notably Scott Walker and Rick Perry, and to a lesser extent Bobby Jindal). I believe that the history of being a governor is invaluable when it comes to running the government bureaucracy, and with dealing with Congress.
Along with his relative youth (he is 2 years older than I am), this will be a problem for some voters, especially after the executive incompetence of the last Senator-turned-President. However, I think linking Rubio blindly to Obama is a mistake. The issues, and depth of understanding them, is what will make the difference in the long run.
That said, with both Walker and Perry now out of the race, I clearly believe that despite these small complaints, Marco Rubio is the man to lead Republicans into the future.
When this process started, I often reiterated my three major criteria for selecting a candidate for the Republican nomination:
- Could win a national General election competing against Hillary Clinton.
- The most conservative candidate that could get elected.
- Could expand the base of the conservative movement.
I think in all three respects, Rubio is the man for the job.
His performance in interviews and in debates has been skillful and eloquent. Unlike many his competitors on either side of the aisle, he has an ability to answer questions and turn partisan biased media questions to their favor. Only Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina are even in the same class in this regard.
Here is Rubio, answering Charlie Rose on why it was fair to call Hillary Clinton a liar over some of her Benghazi statements.
Rose was left stunned and dumbfounded, because fundamentally (despite what some liberals would like to parse and spin), Rubio was right. But how many other of our candidates would have been able to make this same argument, and sound so reasonable while doing it?
Liberal journalists are not the only ones that have come face to face with Rubio’s ability to turn negatives into positives. When Jeb Bush brought up Rubio’s substandard Senate voting record during the CNBC debate…little did Bush know he had fallen into Rubio’s trap:
In many ways, this was the moment in retrospect we may look back and point to as the end of the Jeb Bush Presidential campaign.
As for his ability to win a general election, that is inherently linked to his ability to expand the conservative base. Rubio clearly would provide a generational shift to the face of the Republican party. Put aside that he is a Hispanic American, son of immigrants, born in the 1970s. Many forget that Rubio arose out of the original Tea Party movement, a fiscal conservative at heart first. Rubio would be the most conservative, small government nominee of the Republican Party ever.
But more importantly, Rubio is what many refer to as a ‘Happy Conservative’. Reagan and even George W. Bush were portrayed as ‘amiable fools’ by the media, but what the media never understood is that ‘Happy’ facade also allowed them to be more liked than their competition. Carter, Mondale, Gore and Kerry all learned that facing a Republican that is simply more well liked matters in a general election. There is something in Rubio’s personality that is lacking in some of our other candidates, an ability to make people like him even if he has a position they disagree with. Although people often can’t put a finger on exactly what that quality is, subconsciously they understand that they like this guy.
There is no question demographically, Rubio would alter the map as far as the Hispanic vote is concerned. That doesn’t mean he would win the Hispanic vote, but it certainly means he could challenge President Bush’s vote totals among that community, which were close to 40% of the electorate. Rubio likely would do far better among youth voters than Romney or McCain did, because of his own youthful demeanor, not to mention the aged appearance of his competition.
None of this guarantees success in 2016. Hillary Clinton is still a formidable candidate, with the money and political connections to go the duration. The Democrats have some structural advantages that make it hard for Republican to break through; not quite a ‘Blue wall’, but definitely a hill to overcome.
In the current field, there are several candidates that I personally like and admire. But I think when you examine the complete package, Marco Rubio is the best candidate conservatives, and Republicans, can put forward to further the cause. And as such, he will have my support.